Children in disadvantaged schools at higher risk of obesity

By June Shannon Obesity News   |   15th Oct 2020

Prevalence of overweight and obesity in young children leveling out but girls and those in disadvantaged areas still most at risk.

Primary school children attending designated disadvantaged or DEIS schools in Ireland are more likely to live with overweight or obesity, compared to children in non-disadvantaged schools, putting their future health at risk, a new survey has found.

According to the findings of the latest Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) survey, which included more than 5,710 children from 1st to 6th class in 135 primary schools, 1 in 5 primary school children in Ireland are living with overweight or obesity, and this increases to 1 in 3 among children between 4th and 6th class in disadvantaged areas.

Overall the survey, which was carried out in 2018 and 2019, revealed that the rate of overweight and obesity in primary school children appeared to be leveling out in Ireland. However, it noted that overweight and obesity were still more prevalent in girls particularly in later primary school years (4th to 6th class).

Commissioned by the HSE and carried out by researchers at the National Nutrition Surveillance Centre, at the UCD School of Public Health and Population Science, this is the fifth round of surveillance that has been conducted in Ireland as part of the WHO-EU Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative since 2008.

The COSI survey also found that less than 1 in 10 primary school children are classified as underweight and 7 out of 10 primary school children have a healthy weight.

" A child with overweight or obesity is at an increased risk of complex chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke in later life,"

Sarah Noone, Dietitian , The Irish Heart Foundaiton

Commenting Sarah Noone, Dietitian with The Irish Heart Foundation said, “A child with overweight or obesity is at an increased risk of complex chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke in later life. The findings from COSI highlight the need for the implementation of decisive government-led policies that create environmental, social, and policy conditions supportive of children’s healthy growth and development.”

Professor Cecily Kelleher, UCD College Principal, College of Agriculture and Health, UCD, who leads the team working on the Irish arm of COSI said, “This is the fifth round of surveillance we’ve conducted in Ireland as part of the WHO-EU Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative. The health of our children, largely predicts the health of our future adult population.  We know that childhood obesity is largely preventable through effective policies that can intervene early to create environments and behaviours that support healthy growth and development for all children.  Robust population surveillance efforts like COSI are a valuable means of accessing our progress and the impact of these interventions over time.

“We’re very grateful for the support of the school communities – teachers, parents, and children – who through their participation have allowed us to develop a rich understanding of childhood weight over time.”

" The health of our children, largely predicts the health of our future adult population,"

Professor Cecily Kelleher, , UCD College Principal, College of Agriculture and Health, UCD,

Commenting Sarah O’Brien, National Lead, HSE Healthy Eating Active Living Programme said, ‘It is important to understand that obesity is not about a person’s size or shape.  Healthy weight for all children is important because we know that the consequences of childhood overweight and obesity can be lifelong, affecting quality of life and health both in childhood and adulthood.  While the downward trend evident for children in early primary school years is very positive, the difference in prevalence evident for girls and those children attending designated disadvantaged schools is of concern.  The results of the school survey conducted as part of the research, illustrate that the environment in Irish schools is largely positive to supporting healthy eating and physical activity.  There is a clear need to ensure that policies and actions to support children and families address the wider obesogenic environment our children live in.”

The COSI survey and associated information is available at the HSE website here

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childhood obesity childhood obesity manifesto deprivation heart disease Obesity overweight UCD

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