Irish children score highly in health survey

IRISH children ranked second for physical activity in a survey of 41 countries and also scored highly for breakfast eating, having close friends and life satisfaction.

In a study covering Europe and North America, the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that 45% of Irish children are meeting the physical activity guidelines of at least one hour a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity.

At number one in the top 10 rating was Slovakia with 47% of children meeting the guidelines, while in third place was Finland with 43% meeting the target.

The United States was in ninth position with 30%, while Denmark was in 10th position with 29%.

Entitled Health Inequalities in Young People’s Health, it is the latest international report of the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey and presents information from more than 200,000 students aged 11, 13 and 15 years.

Deputy director of NUI Galways’ Health Promotion Research Centre and report co-author, Dr Saoirse Nic Gabhainn, said Irish children also reported relatively low levels of health complaints and medically attended injuries.

The study also found that Irish children in primary schools are near the bottom of the league for some negative behaviours such as fighting (37th) and being bullied (33rd), but were among the top for high life satisfaction.

Dr Nic Gabhainn said the findings in relation to Irish children’s health was good news for Ireland.

“We have held onto our position near the top of the physical activity league and have improved on sweets and soft drink consumption, as well as tooth brushing, where we had performed poorly in previous cross-national HBSC surveys.”

Ireland also did well in school performance, rating seventh in the survey.

Irish rates of smoking and drinking have both decreased since previous HBSC studies in 1998 and 2002.

The study shows that 19% of Irish 15-year-olds smoke tobacco at least once weekly (16th) and 33% admitted to being drunk at least twice (20th).

But Irish teenagers are just above average for cannabis use in the last 30 days, at 9%, putting themselves in 12th position in the league table.

Dr Nic Gabhainn pointed out that across Europe, including Ireland, consistent inequalities between children based on gender and family affluence were evident and would require further attention.

The study found that at age 15 boys were more likely than girls to eat breakfast, undertake physical activity, to have used cannabis recently and to have been fighting.

At age 15, girls are more likely to report that they are doing well in school, to feel supported by their classmates and to feel pressured by their schoolwork.

The study also found that children from more affluent families have more positive eating patterns — they are more likely to eat breakfast, to eat fruit and less likely to consume soft drinks.

Meanwhile, the Nutrition and Health Council is reminding parents of the danger of letting children slouch around this summer and has published their top tips for keeping them on the go over the holidays on their website


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