One in five exposed to passive smoke every day

Major survey looks at health of the nation
  • Deborah Condon

Almost one in five people living in Ireland is exposed to secondhand smoke on a daily basis, a major new survey has revealed.

According to the second annual Healthy Ireland survey, which involved almost 7,500 people aged 15 and older, 23% of the population are current smokers and 18% of people are exposed to passive smoke every day.

When it comes to alcohol consumption, 37% of drinkers admitted to consuming six or more standard drinks in one sitting - this is considered binge drinking.

Furthermore, this appears to be particularly an issue for men, with 55% of male drinkers admitting to drinking at least six standard drinks during a typical drinking occasion compared to 18% of women.

The results were even more startling for younger people, with 67% of men under the age of 25 consuming six or more standard drinks during a typical drinking session compared to 39% of similarly-aged women.

The survey also noted that while 90% of people were aware that heavy alcohol use is a risk factor for liver disease, just 27% of women were aware that this also increases the risk of breast cancer.

Responding to this, Alcohol Action Ireland noted that awareness of risk factors associated with excessive alcohol consumption is lowest among those young people who binge drink the most.

"While most drinkers identified liver disease as a potential risk of excessive drinking, just half were aware of the risk of high blood pressure and less than half were aware of other risks, such as bowel cancer and pancreatitis.

"The low level of awareness of the breast cancer risk associated with alcohol consumption among women, particularly young women, just 16% of whom were aware of it, is very concerning, as the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) found that 12% of all breast cancers over the course of a decade in Ireland were associated with alcohol consumption," commented Catherine Keane of Alcohol Action Ireland.

Meanwhile the survey also found that 63% of people would like to be more physically active, however many said that this was not possible due to pressures of work and caring for others.

People were found to spend an average of six hours and 36 minutes sitting every day, with younger women spending more time sitting than younger men.

When it came to healthy eating, just 27% of people said that they managed to consume the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Three in five people admitted to eating snacks every day, while 14% said that they consume sugar-sweetened drinks on a daily basis. Among those aged 15-24, this figure rose to 22%.

Some of the other findings of the survey include:

-28% of people said they have a long-standing illness or health condition
-Fewer than one in 10 women take a folic acid supplement, with just 18% of women aged 25-34 doing so. All women of child-bearing age are recommended to take folic acid supplements as many pregnancies are unplanned and this vitamin is known to reduce the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, in babies
-While around half of people have had some experience of others with mental health issues, just 54% of respondents said they would be willing to live with somebody with a mental health problem
-The average number of GP visits increases from 3.4 visits per year among 15-24 year-olds to 8.4 per year among those aged 75 and older.

"While we have made progress in some areas in the last few years, rates of tobacco consumption, alcohol usage, food consumption patterns and physical inactivity are leading causes of increases in chronic conditions.

"This survey is clearly showing us a clustering of risk factors for poor health with significant numbers of people having two or more unhealthy behaviours. We know that the majority of chronic diseases are preventable or modifiable through lifestyle behaviour changes," commented Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer at the Department of Health.

Healthy Ireland is a Government-led initiative aimed at creating a more healthy population, both physically and mentally. It seeks to empower people by providing individuals and communities with information on how to improve their health and wellbeing.

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