TCD Participates in Scientific Study on Children’s Diet

Posted on: 23 May 2005

The first comprehensive scientific evaluation of dietary intake in children in Ireland has been completed by Trinity College Dublin and University College Cork. The study which provides direction for the dietary strategies that need to be established to prevent obesity in Irish children was presented at a conference organised by RELAY in Dublin this month. The researchers surveyed 600 children aged 5-12 years from primary schools throughout Ireland during 2003 and 2004. The study includes direct body measurements on each child and provides accurate data on the extent to which the obesity crisis is affecting Irish children. It also includes essential information on lifestyle, including physical activity, for both the children and their parents. Dr. Sinead McCarthy, Department of Clinical Medicine, TCD, who co ordinated the study, said that the steady rise of overweight and obesity in schoolchildren must be tackled urgently. “The home environment is critical in shaping eating behaviours and physical activity habits in this age group. We need to identify ways to help parents to create a healthier home environment for children”, stated Dr. McCarthy. The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Mary Coughlan T.D. welcomed the Scientific Study on Children’s Diet stating that the study is very timely given the recent Obesity Task Force report as it provides Irish families with up-to-date information for planning balanced healthy lifestyles. Minister Coughlan added that a major challenge faces the Irish Food Industry which has a significant role to play in tackling the problem and the Minister complemented the Industry for its recent initiative under the Nutrition and Health Foundation Key findings on food consumption habits in Irish children identified issues that need to be addressed to promote healthy weight in children, including: Low intakes of fruit and vegetables with average intakes well below international recommendations for children. Overall fat intake is higher than recommended – 40% of children exceed the recommendations. Daily salt intake is higher than the levels recommended by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland with processed meats and bread are the main salt sources. The study also found that overweight and obesity in 5-12 year old schoolchildren is relatively high and is increasing: The study which benchmarks dietary intakes of a nationally representative sample of Irish children was carried out by the Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance and was funded by the Department of Agriculture and Food under the “Food Institutional Research Measure” and co-funded by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. RELAY is a national dissemination service funded by the Department of Agriculture and Food with responsibilities for communicating the results of publicly funded research to the food industry.