Less than half of parents know what their children weigh, and just 7% believe that their child may be overweight, it has emerged.
Only one in five (20%) said their child exercised in line with national guidelines — 60 minutes every day, according to the latest Pfizer Health Index.
Director of human health and nutrition at safefood, Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, said one in four children were currently overweight or obese, but because the norm had changed, we did not recognise this reality.
“Children’s social, emotional, and physical health is being harmed. We as a society must partner with industry and the Government to turn the tide on childhood obesity in Ireland as a matter of priority,” Dr Foley-Nolan said.
Dr Nina Byrnes, who has two GP practices in Dublin, said children should be weighed at age two and six under the free GP care for under sixes.
“I pretty much weigh everyone who comes into my surgery, whether they are a child or adult,” said Dr Byrnes.
“It is considered good medical practice to get baseline measures. Height and weight should be no different to blood pressure and temperature.”
Dr Byrnes said doctors estimated a child’s height and weight percentile and looked at how the child’s size compared with average boys and girls the same age.
“A lot of people think that thin children are underweight, as opposed to knowing that they are a healthy weight,” she said.
Children are also spending around two hours in front of screens every day, and 15% are bringing tablets and phones to bed.
Almost one in four parents (24%) said they did not impose any screen-time rules.
“Mobile phones, tablets, even a blue light alarm in your room, disturbs sleep and quality sleep is crucial for growth and function,” said Dr Byrnes.
“There should be a rule for everyone, not just children, that there are no screens in the bedroom at night.”
Family psychotherapist, Dr John Sharry, said modern technology was undoubtedly impacting on the health of families, with children more sedentary than before.
“While technology is a powerful tool, it is important that parents aim to be in charge of the use of that technology, rather than technology being in charge of you,” said Dr Sharry.
The annual survey also highlighted that after a long-term decline, private medical insurance numbers have stabilised at 36% but membership is still far lower than pre-recession.
During the peak of the ‘Tiger’ years about 50% of people had private health insurance, but the percentage fell back to the high 20s at one stage. Medical card holders also remained the same as last year, at 43%, but are still higher than pre- recession.
Attendance at the GP for a check-up has increased significantly over the past five years, from 23% attending in the past week or month, compared with 29% this year.
Dr Byrnes said a significant proportion of the GP visits were because people were more pro-active about staying well. “I think it is crucial that we focus on keeping our society well because it means we will spend less on treating people.”
More than one in five parents (22%) worry that their children spend too much time on their devices which is slightly more than those (18%) concerned that their children are not eating a balanced diet.
For 14% their main concern is that their children spend too much time indoors or are being bullied (13%). Other worries listed are study/ exam stress (12%); Peer pressure (11%) and not taking exercise (10%).
Over half (55%) of parents said they had a family meal every day, with just over a quarter (26%) sharing a meal a couple of times a week. For 14% it happened once or less than once every week while 5% never shared a family meal.
Parents listed the main priorities for their children’s health. For 31% it was reaching developmental milestones while for 29% it was access to GP care. One in four prioritised childhood illness and social development.
Eight out of ten (86%) of people rank health as a top priority for investment in the future. More than half (55%) believe health cuts had hit them hardest.
More than one in five people (22%) visited their doctor because they were unwell this year, compared to 19% last year and 15% in 2014.
The number of people with private medical insurance has remained at 36% since last year. In 2010, 44% of people had private medical insurance, falling to 33% in 2014.
The Pfizer Index has been running for the past 11 years, with each annual study examining people’s experiences of illness and wellbeing.
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