Kids from poorer backgrounds face more health difficulties

By June Shannon Policy News   |   17th Oct 2018

Weight issues established in early childhood can be difficult to reverse

Children from lower socio-economic groups in Ireland are more likely to be overweight or obese and to report some form of health problem, new research has found.

The latest results from the Growing Up in Ireland study, on the lives of 13-year-olds which was launched today (Wednesday 17 October) by the ESRI, revealed that 20 per cent of 13- year olds in Ireland are overweight and 6 per cent are obese.

The report found that there were strong differences according to family background as 21 per cent of 13-year-olds from the highest social class were overweight or obese compared with 32 per cent from the lowest social class.

Children from disadvantaged family backgrounds were also less likely to participate in organised sport and physical activity.

Children from disadvantaged family backgrounds were also less likely to participate in organised sport and physical activity


Girls were significantly more likely than boys to be overweight or obese (30% compared with 24%) and girls were also less likely to take part in physical exercise than boys, the report found.
According to the study, although there was some change in the weight status of individual children between the ages of 9 and 13, weight status at 9 years was strongly related to status by 13. Therefore, the report found that once weight status problems were established in early childhood they were difficult (but not impossible) to reverse.

The ESRI study also found there was also a certain level of misperception among the 13-year-olds themselves regarding their own weight status. For example, 21 per cent of the 13-year-olds whose measurements indicated that they were obese described themselves as being ‘Just the right size’ or ‘Very/A bit skinny’.

According to the report, most 13-year-olds were in good physical health – 76 per cent were reported by their parents as being very healthy and 23 per cent as healthy but a few minor problems. However, parents from more disadvantaged backgrounds were somewhat more likely to report that their 13-year-old had some form of health difficulty: 22 per cent of parents in the highest social class reported some form of health problems compared to 33 per cent in the lowest social class.

" We’ve known for years about the disparity in obesity rates between the lowest and highest socio-economic groups – but virtually nothing is being done to tackle it,"

Mr Chris Macey, Head of Advocacy , The Irish Heart Foundation

Speaking at the launch of the report Professor James Williams from the ESRI said: “This report highlights some of the key issues relating to this important time in a young person’s life, as they face into the many challenges posed by their teenage years. It also underlines the invaluable input which the Growing Up in Ireland project can make to developing policies and interventions to support all young people growing up in modern Ireland. The report highlights significant inequalities in certain aspects of children’s lives. Children from more socially disadvantaged backgrounds are at higher risk of poorer outcomes in terms of their physical health; their education and schooling; and their emotional and behavioural well-being.”

Commenting on the report Mr Chris Macey, Head of Advocacy the Irish Heart Foundation said, “We’ve known for years about the disparity in obesity rates between the lowest and highest socio-economic groups – but virtually nothing is being done to tackle it. The State should establish a Children’s future Health Fund financed by the proceeds of the sugar sweetened drinks tax to tackle all childhood obesity, but with a dedicated programme focusing on disadvantaged communities. This should include measures such as the development of family food initiatives teaching growing and cooking skills, more support for mothers in their babies’ first 1,000 days, a healthier built environment, including safe play areas, green spaces, walking and cycling routes and measures to tackle food poverty, including further expansion of the School Meals Scheme.”

The ESRI report is based on interviews completed with over 7,400 young people and their families when the children were 13 years old in 2012 and when they were 9 years old in 2007/08.


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childhood obesity ESRI Growing up in Ireland health inequality

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