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Children and Obesity

9th October 2009

Children from poor backgrounds more likely to be overweight


ONE IN five nine year olds in Ireland is overweight and a further 7 per cent are obese putting them at risk of disease now and in the future, the research has found.

Girls in this age group are more likely than boys to be classified as overweight or obese with 22 per cent of 9-year-old girls in the national longitudinal study of children classified as overweight compared to 17 per cent of boys and 8 per cent of them obese compared to 6 per cent of boys.

The findings are hardly surprising when levels of physical activity among these children and their diet is examined. The authors of the Growing up in Ireland study, the first key findings of which were published yesterday, said the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends school-aged children engage in 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day to promote healthy development.

But when the 8,500 children aged nine years in this study were questioned only a quarter said they had engaged in at least one hour of physical activity for each of the previous seven days. Some 4 per cent of the children did not meet this criterion on any of the previous seven days.

Overall boys were more likely than girls to meet the WHO recommendation, with 31 per cent of boys as opposed to 21 per cent of girls complying.

Turning to diet the researchers found over half the children (55 per cent) had eaten at least one portion of crisps, 74 per cent at least one portion of biscuits/ cakes/chocolate, and 53 per cent at least one non-diet soft drink in the previous 24 hours.

Social class was found to have a significant influence on these children with those from poorer backgrounds more likely to be overweight, practise poor dental hygiene and suffer from a chronic illness.

Some 23 per cent of children from semi-skilled/unskilled backgrounds were classified as overweight compared with 18 per cent of children from professional/man-agerial backgrounds.

In terms of oral health the study found 95 per cent of nine-year-old children brushed their teeth at least daily.

But 9 per cent of children from the lowest income band did not brush regularly, compared with only 3 per cent of those in the top income band.

The study also found that while most parents reported their children to be in good health 11 per cent of nine year olds had a chronic illness or disability and these were more heavily concentrated among children from lower socio-economic backgrounds. For example 14 per cent of those from semi-skilled/unskilled backgrounds, compared with 10 per cent of those from the other two class categories, had a chronic illness or disability.

A small number of conditions accounted for most of the chronic illness among nine year olds. Respiratory illness such as asthma accounted for 47 per cent of cases, mental and behavioural conditions for a further 17 per cent and skin conditions for 5 per cent. Boys were almost twice as likely as girls to be affected by a mental and behavioural condition.

Interestingly the research also found that the height of nine-year-old boys and girls increased as their family’s social class increased. In contrast, the weight of nine-year-old girls fell with increases in social class, though this pattern was not evident for boys.

In general the study also found the higher the parent’s education the more fruit and vegetables the children ate. Conversely, children’s consumption of energy dense snack foods with the exception of biscuits, cakes and chocolate increased as parental education fell.

The Irish Times

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