One in five children too fat, but rate steady

More than one in five children are overweight or obese but there are some encouraging signs of stabilisation, according to data published by the HSE.

Rates of overweight and obesity have decreased for children aged 7 and stabilised at age nine.

However, latest Irish results from the Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative show that the proportion of overweight children remains a serious cause for concern.

Another worry is that the prevalence of overweight and obesity among children attending disadvantaged schools has not stabilised.

COSI monitors childhood obesity levels by measuring children in sample schools all over Europe. The latest data is for 2012 and is the third set of results published to date. Data was also collected in 2008 and 2011.

It involved a nationally representative sample of seven-, nine-, and 11-year-old children from a mix of Irish urban, rural, and disadvantaged schools. The study was carried out for the HSE by the National Nutrition Surveillance Centre at University College Dublin.

The large study comprises 12,236 children’s measurements in 163 schools, collected on three occasions, in 2008, 2010, and 2012.

Cecily Kelleher said the rates of overweight and obesity had shown decreases at age seven and stabilisation at age nine, but concern about the overall incidence remained. “Those with responsibility for caring for children and educating the public on health and well-being, therefore have much to do to continue to tackle this issue,” she said.

The HSE’s national director of health and wellbeing, Stephanie O’Keeffe, said identifying children who were overweight at an early stage allowed the HSE to offer them and their parents the supports to get the balance right as they grew up.

The HSE’s head of health promotion and improvement, Cate Hartigan, said a pilot growth-monitoring programme will start in primary schools in September as part of the school health check for five- and six-year-olds. It will start in four pilot HSE areas — Mayo, Laois-Offaly, Dublin 15, and Cork City.

“Parents will be given feedback on their child’s growth and, if required, advice on steps they can take at home to ensure they rebalance diet and activity levels as their child grows,” said Dr Hartigan.

“Any children whose growth results show signs of clinical obesity will be offered a community-based lifestyle intervention programme, based on the successful W82GO programme delivered by the Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street (Dublin).”

Key findings

Key findings from data collected in 2008, 2010, and 2012:

Overweight and obese seven-year-olds

-Boys — 18.3%; 16.2%; and 14.4%.

-Girls — 26.4%; 25.7%; and 21.4%.

Obese seven-year-olds

-Boys — 4.7%; 3.8%; and 2.25%.

-Girls — 7.5%; 4.6%; and 5.5%.

Overweight and obese nine-year-olds

-Boys — 19.7% and 20% .

-Girls — 23.2% and 22%.

Obese nine-year-olds

-Boys — 4.4% and 4.1% (2010 and 2012).

-Girls — 4.8 % and 4.3%.

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