Fewer school-aged children smoking

Major new study on health behaviours
  • Deborah Condon

The number of school-aged children in Ireland who currently smoke or have ever tried smoking has fallen since 2014, a major new study on health behaviours has shown.

The consumption of alcoholic drinks and soft drinks is also down among this age group.

The findings are contained in the Health Behaviours in School-aged Children (HBSC) 2018 Study. This is an international study, with the Irish part commissioned by the Department of Health and undertaken by the Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI Galway.

According to the main findings, which relate to children aged 10-17, 29% said that their health was excellent in 2018, a fall from 34% in 2014, while 43% said they were very happy with their life, a fall from 47%.

When it came to smoking, 11% said that that they had ever smoked in 2018 compared to 16% in 2014, while 5% said they were current smokers last year compared to 8% in 2014.

However, 22% of 12-17 year-olds said that they had ever used e-cigarettes in 2018 - a question that was not asked in 2014 - while 9% admitted to using e-cigarettes in the last 30 days.

When it came to alcohol, 64% of 10-17 year-olds said they had never had an alcoholic drink, up from 58% in 2014. The number of those who had consumed alcohol in the last 30 days fell from 20% in 2014 to 17% in 2018, while the number of those who said they had been "really drunk" fell from 21% in 2014 to 17% in 2018.

When it came to food and dietary behaviours, just 23% said that they consumed fruit more than once a day, no change from 2014, while just 21% said they consumed vegetables more than once a day, down from 22% in 2014.

The number of children eating sweets every day fell from 27% in 2014 to 21% in 2014, while the number of those drinking soft drinks every day fell from 13% in 2014 to 7% in 2018.

The study also found that 12% of children never eat breakfast during weekdays, while 19% said they have gone to school or to bed hungry because there was not enough food at home.

Meanwhile 15% of children are trying to lose weight.

When it came to exercise, 23% said they were physically active on seven days in the last week, while 52% reported exercising vigorously four or more times a week.

Bullying remains a big issue for many school-aged children, with 30% reporting being bullied at school once or more in the past couple of months, up from 25% in 2014. Meanwhile 13% admitted to bullying others, the same amount as in 2014.

Some 16% said they had been cyberbullied, while 8% had taken part in cyberbullying last year.

When it came to sexual activity, 24% of 15-17 year-olds said they had ever had sex, down from 27% in 2014. However, the use of contraception had decreased. Some 29% said that they had used the pill the last time they had sex, down from 33% in 2014, while 64% said they had used a condom, down from 73% in 2014.

Those aged 15-17 also completed a mental health inventory and a wellbeing index. In both cases, girls scored significantly poorer than boys.

"We are delighted to present this report, demonstrating continued improvement in some areas of child health and wellbeing, but also highlighting key areas where action is required at school, family and community levels.

"It is vital to respond decisively to the high rates of e-cigarette use and the stubborn bullying patterns illustrated in this, our 6th national HBSC report," commented Prof Saoirse Nic Gabhainn, principal investigator of the HBSC Ireland research team at NUI Galway.

HBSC is an international study involving 47 countries and regions. It is carried out in conjunction with the World Health Organization. The Irish part of the study involved over 15,000 children from 255 primary and secondary schools.


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