A major study of primary schoolchildren has found that about one in 12 has high blood pressure and more than half are ingesting too much salt.
The increasingly unhealthy profile of our schoolchildren is captured in a survey of more than 1,000 third- and fourth-class pupils from Cork City and Mitchelstown, Co Cork, a quarter of whom are either overweight or obese.
The same proportion are failing to reach recommended daily exercise levels of one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
Television and gaming are contributing to this sedentary lifestyle with one-in-five schoolchildren watching three hours of TV on a school day and two in five playing a games console for one hour a night.
The data from the Cork Children’s Lifestyle Study, carried out by a research team in University College Cork, will be presented for the first time today, and is likely to raise concerns over the health of a generation of younger people. Also among the disturbing findings are:
-More than twice as many obese children did no hard physical activity over a week compared to normal weight children;
-7% of girls were categorised as obese compared with 4% of boys. Boys were more likely to reach the 60-minute daily exercise target;
-Moderate to vigorous activity levels were significantly lower for children who were either overweight or obese compared with normal weight.
The study, involving children from 27 primary schools, also indicates that many children between the ages of eight and 11 are not getting enough sleep.
The study’s analysis of salt intake provides the first objective figures for children in this regard.
One of the authors of the study, Dr Janas Harrington, a lecturer in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at UCC, said more types of food were processed than might have been the case in previous decades and that children are “eating a lot more hidden salt than they were”.
The study involved taking urine samples from more than 800 children and more than half had above the recommended level of salt.
One fifth of children surveyed were overweight and 5% obese.
Dr Harrington said there was no easy solution to tackling the increasingly unhealthy lifestyle of schoolchildren.
“Individually we can do something but we need to look at the wider picture,” she said.
The study was conducted between April 2012 and June last year and in many cases Dr Harrington said the results were “bolstering what we know already”, with results similar to national studies, such as Growing Up In Ireland.
Dr Harrington said the parents and schools involved in the study had been very supportive.
Today’s publication of the first results from the study will also see data published from the Baseline study, the first Irish birth cohort study, conducted by researchers in the Department of Paediatrics in UCC.
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