Research Report Highlights Patterns of Overweight and Obesity Among 9-Year Old Children
Nov 10, 2011
The National Longitudinal Study of Children published a major new report from the study on overweight and obesity among children in Ireland. The report was launched jointly by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald, TD and the Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly TD, at an event in Pearse Street Library, Dublin.
Growing Up in Ireland – Overweight and Obesity Among 9-Year-Olds examines the patterns of overweight and obesity among children in Ireland and associated factors including diet, exercise, child and parental recognition of the problem and the influence of child’s weight status on his/her self-esteem. Policy implications are also discussed.
The findings are based on data from the first round of interviews with 8,500 nine-year-old children as well as interviews with their parents, teachers and principals. The interview process involved taking the height and weight of the child and their parents as well as asking a range of questions on diet, exercise, behaviours and sedentary activities. These children and their families are currently taking part in a follow-up interview now that the children have turned 13 years of age. A full download of the report and the executive summary can be found at http://www.growingup.ie/childpublications.
L-R: Mary Doyle, Director General, Department of Children and Youth Affairs; Professor Richard Layte, Research Professor, ESRI; Dr James Reilly, TD, Minister for Health; Frances Fitzgerald, TD, Minister for Children and Youth Affairs; Professor Frances Ruanne, Director, ESRI; Dr Cathal McCrory, Research Fellow, Growing Up in Ireland; Professor James Williams, Research Professor, ESRI, Principal Investigator, Growing Up in Ireland.
Key Findings include:
• 26% of nine year old children were found to have a Body Mass Index (BMI) that was outside of the ‘healthy’ range. Of these, 19% were defined as overweight and 7% obese.
• Girls were significantly more likely to be overweight (22% v 19%) or obese (8% v 5%) than boys.
• Children from unskilled manual working class households were significantly more likely to be overweight and obese (boys: 29%; girls: 38%) than their peers from professional households (boys: 19%; girls: 18%)
• Parents and children were poor at recognising child overweight and obesity: Over half (54%) of parents of overweight children and 20% of parents of obese children reported that their child was ‘about the right weight’ for their height.
• Four out of five children measured as overweight perceived themselves to be ‘about the right weight’ (78%). This fell to three in five (60%) among children measured as obese.
• Mother’s who were overweight themselves were less likely to recognise that their child was overweight.
• International comparisons suggest that the prevalence of overweight and obesity in Ireland is higher than in Northern European countries, similar to Great Britain but less than in Southern European countries of Spain, Italy and Greece.
• Parents reported that 74% of boys and 67% of girls did 20 minutes of light exercise on 9+ days in the last two weeks. This fell to 63% of boys and 47% of girls for hard exercise.
• 11% of children watch television for three or more hours on an average weekday.
• Low levels of physical exercise and high levels of sedentary activities are both associated with a higher risk of overweight and obesity. Boys doing 20+ minutes hard exercise on less than 3 days in the last two weeks were 3.6 times more likely to be obese than boys doing hard exercise on 9+ days. The figure was 3.2 for girls.
• Boys watching TV for 3+ hours on an average school night were 4.2 times more likely to be obese than boys watching less than an hour of TV on average. Girls watching 3+ hours of TV were 1.75 times more likely to be obese.
• The availability of food in the local area may have a significant association with the quality of children’s diets. Controlling for other factors, the further parents had to travel to purchase food, the lower the quality of the child’s diet.
• Childhood overweight is associated with significantly lower self-esteem around physical appearance and popularity and worse emotional and behavioural problems.
Speaking at the launch event, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD said: “Our younger generations are our future so ensuring their good health is in our vital national interest. But unfortunately too much recent research, on children’s public health including that which we are publishing today, point to an appalling vista, with 26% of nine year old children found to be either overweight or obese. Addressing obesity requires a cross-government, cross-societal and multi-faceted response. The establishment of a new nationwide Play and Recreation Network will bring together local authority play and recreation officers and their expertise for the purposes of advising on further developments and innovations in the provision of play and recreation facilities and to help promote the wider benefits of participation in sporting and cultural activities among local communities.”
The Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly TD added: “This very important study shows that childhood overweight is continuing to rise and is a serious public health challenge. To help address this, earlier in the year I set up a Special Action Group on Obesity comprising key stakeholders, including the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, to progress a number of issues to address the problem of obesity. Alone no single initiative will reverse the trend, but a combination of measures should make a difference. The Group is concentrating on a range of actions including Healthy Eating Guidelines, the marketing of food and drink to children, nutritional labelling, calorie posting on restaurant menus, the promotion of physical activity and the detection and treatment of obesity. The Group will work with other Government Departments in a cross-sectoral approach to help halt the rise in childhood overweight and obesity.”
Also speaking at the event, Professor Richard Layte, report author and Research Professor, ESRI, said: “Ireland, like many other countries, has experienced a significant increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents in recent decades. Excess weight in childhood can have serious consequences for health and psychological well-being in childhood and a longer-term impact on health into adulthood. The Growing Up in Ireland study provides a large amount of valuable information on overweight and obesity and the factors associated with it. Analysis of this information could contribute significantly to the development of public policies aimed at halting or reversing current trends.”
About Growing Up in Ireland:
Growing Up in Ireland is a Government funded study following the progress of almost 20,000 children and their families – a Child Cohort of 8,500 children interviewed at nine years and 13 years of age and an Infant Cohort of 11,100 children participating at nine months and three years of age. The study is being conducted by a consortium of researchers led by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and Trinity College Dublin. Those wishing to find out more about the study or today’s event can visit the study’s website www.growingup.ie
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