Child obesity rates stabilisiing

  • Niall Hunter, Editor

Around one-in-four Irish children are overweight or obese, although obesity rates have recently reduced or stabilised in some age groups, according to a new HSE study.

However, rates have not reduced among disadvantaged children, according to the research.

The study looked at 12,000 children's measurements in 163 schools, with data collected in 2008, 2010 and 2012.

According to Prof Cecily Kelleher of UCD, the study found that the rates of overweight and obesity have shown decreases at age seven, and stabilisation at age nine, although the overall incidence of overweight/obesity remains of concern.

The results show that nearly one-in-four Irish children are either overweight or obese, which, the HSE says 'remains an alarming statistic on which we continue to focus our work'.

The data, however, also shows an encouraging early indication of a stabilisation of overweight and
obesity among nine-year-olds and a continued reduction in both overweight and obesity among seven-year-olds.

But critically, this overall reduction in incidence is not seen among seven-year-old Irish children attending the Department of Education and Skills designated disadvantaged schools (DEIS), where there has been no improvement over time, the study notes.

When categorised by International Obesity Task Force standards, the percentages of overweight (including obese) seven-year-old boys were 18.3%, 16.2% and 14.4% for 2008, 2012 and 2012, respectively.

For girls, these percentages were 26.4%, 25.7% and 21.4%, respectively. The percentages of obese seven-year-old  boys were 4.7%, 3.8% and 2.2%, respectively. For girls, these percentages were 7.5%, 4.6% and 5.5%, respectively.

The figures show that levels of overweight and obesity improved over time in seven-year-old children across the three waves of the survey. However, this benefit is not observed in the Department of Education and Skills designated disadvantaged schools, where there has been no improvement over time in this age-group

The percentages of overweight (including obese) nine-year-old boys were 19.7% and 20.0% for the second and third rounds, respectively. For girls, these percentages were 23.2% and 22.0%, respectively. The percentages of obese nine-year-old boys were 4.4% and 4.1%, respectively.

For girls, these percentages were 4.8% and 4.3%, respectively. These rates of overweight and obesity in
nine-year-old children showed no change between the second and third round.

In addition, there was no difference between nine-year-old children in the current study and nine-year-old children in the Growing Up in Ireland study.

"This suggests a persistent pattern over time and between surveys for nine-year-old children", the HSE said.

Of the overweight and obese boys and girls who were in first class in 2010, 16-25% became either normal weight or overweight respectively when in third class in 2012. Of the overweight and obese boys and girls who were in third class in 2010, this percentage was even higher, ranging from 30%-42%.

The study concludes that it seems that the prevalence of overweight and obesity in Irish primary school children aged nine has stabilised. Among seven-year-old children, prevalence seems  to have fallen, however, this was not observed for children attending disadvantaged schools.

The study was carried out for the HSE by the National Nutrition Surveillance Centre at UCD.

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