Irish children are smoking less, drinking less and are healthier than they were 20 years ago.

According to the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children Ireland Trends Report 1998-2014’ (HBSC) report, the number of children aged between 10 and 17 who are drinking and smoking has plummetted.

The survey found that, in 2014, 8% of Irish children said they were smoking compared to 23% in 1998. This is a further decrease since 2010 when the figure was 12%. Some 21% of 10- to 17-year-olds reported that they had ever been drunk compared to 33% in 1998; while 8% reported that they had used cannabis in the last year compared to 12% in 1998.

In terms of positive behaviour, seat-belt wearing rates have almost doubled to 81% amongst children since 1998. More than one-third reported that their health was excellent compared to 28% in 1998. High rates of life satisfaction (76%) and reported happiness (89%) also continue.

The HBSC is a study conducted every four years in collaboration with the World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe.

Principal investigator, Professor Saoirse Nic Gabhainn, from the Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI Galway said despite the positive findings, more work needs to be done: “More still needs to be done to improve our children’s health, in particular around physical activity. Other areas of concern are the increases in feeling pressured by schoolwork. Importantly, the proportion of children reporting high life satisfaction and being happy, fundamental aspects of childhood, is high and has been sustained over the years, while health and safety behaviours such as wearing a seatbelt and brushing teeth have increased substantially.”

Minister of State for Health Promotion Marcella Corcoran Kennedy said the importance of childhood development can not be overstated: “We know lifestyle patterns are established at an early age. We also know that chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiac disease, can develop as a result of lifestyle choices. Having detailed information about the lifestyle choices of our children is hugely significant for the choices we make as a country on the future direction of our national health policy.”


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