One in four three-year olds in Ireland is overweight or obese, with children from lower social classes more likely to be overweight, according to a major new study.
The Growing Up in Ireland study of 10,000 three-year olds also found that children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds are also likely to be less healthy than those in better-off circumstances.
The research indicates that 19% of three-year-olds are overweight and 6% cent are obese.
There was little difference in the level of overweight and obesity between boys and girls but there were quite strong differences in obesity levels according to the family’s social class.
This ranged from 5% among children from the most socially advantaged group to 9% among those who were most disadvantaged.
Even at three years of age, according to the study, there was already evidence of social differences in diet, with children whose mothers had lower levels of education more likely to consume energy-dense foods (such as hamburgers and crisps) and less likely to have eaten fresh fruit or vegetables in the 24 hours prior to their interview for the survey.
The vast majority of three-year-old children in Ireland are reported to be in good health – almost 98 per cent were described by their parents as being 'very healthy' or 'healthy', with a few minor problems , according to the latest results from the ongoing study, published today.
Girls were rated as being in marginally better health than boys in the study.
However, in line with international results, the study found evidence that between birth and three years, a gap was opening up in the health of children depending on how socially advantaged/disadvantaged they were.
By three years of age, children from the most socially disadvantaged families were less likely to be rated as very healthy compared to those from more advantaged ones (67% compared with 75%).
No such differences were apparent at birth or nine months, the research found.
Almost 16% of 3-year-olds were reported as having a long-standing illness, disability or other health condition, with a higher rate for boys (18 per cent) than for girls (13 per cent).
Asthma was the most commonly reported ongoing illness (found in 6% of three-year-olds).
On average, three-year-olds had 2.6 consultations with their GP in the previous year.
Children who were covered by a full medical card tended to have had more GP consultations, even when their health status was taken into account.
It was found that three-year-old children in Ireland tend to display slightly lower levels of socio-emotional or behavioural difficulties than their counterparts in Britain, who participated in a similar study.
The Growing Up in Ireland study, started in 2006, involves two cohorts of children - an infant cohort of 11,000 children recruited into the study at nine months of age, and a child cohort of 8,500 children recruited at 9 years of age.
The study is wholly funded by Department of Children and Youth Affairs, in association with the Department of Social Protection and the Central Statistics Office. The younger children have been re-interviewed at three years and five years of age. The older group has been re-interviewed at 13 years of age.
View the full 'Growing Up' report here