Only quarter of 9 year olds get enough physical activity

By June Shannon Policy News   |   8th Nov 2018

Just one in four or a quarter of nine-year olds in Ireland are physically active for the recommended 60 minutes a day, a new study has found.

According to the Growing Up in Ireland study, which today (8 November 2018) has published a series of short reports on the lives of nine-year-olds, just one-quarter reported being physically active for at least 60 minutes every day – the World Health Organisation recommended level of activity for children.

As expected, at 28 per cent, boys were more likely than girls (22%) to get the recommended amount of physical activity and there were no differences by income and mother’s education in meeting the 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

However, those in more socially advantaged families were likely to be closer to the target (i.e. active on more days per week but not every day). For example, 26 per cent of those in the highest-income category were physically active on five to six days per week, compared to only 20 per cent in the lowest-income category.

The reports, which cover health and physical development, 9-year-olds and their families, relationships and socio-emotional wellbeing and school and learning, were launched by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone, TD, at the 10th Annual Growing Up in Ireland Research Conference which took place in Dublin today.

“Physical activity plays a significant role in protecting children now and in the future from heart disease,"

Ms Laura Hickey, Children and Young People Programme Manager, The Irish Heart Foundation

The Key Findings reports analyse data from the 7,563 children and families that participated in the Growing Up in Ireland survey at 9 months old (in 2008-09), at 3 years, 5 years and 9 years (in 2017/18).

The report on health and physical development also found that 17 per cent of nine-year olds were overweight and 5 per cent were obese. Children from lowest income groups were substantially more likely to be overweight or obese compared to nine-year olds from the highest income group.

The report also found that while most nine-year olds’ diets were generally healthy, there was a relatively high consumption of some treat foods.

Commenting on the findings in relation to low levels of physical activity, Ms Laura Hickey, Children and Young People Programme Manager with the Irish Heart Foundation said, “Physical activity plays a significant role in protecting children now and in the future from heart disease. Children who are not active when they are young are less likely to be active as adults. We know this is a major risk factor for developing heart disease. In Ireland today, children have low physical literacy levels lacking the confidence and competence to take part and sustain physical activity levels across their lifespan. One in 10 children do not have the fundamental movement skills required to take part in physical activity. 60 minutes of physical activity per day is essential for health benefits. The Irish Heart Foundation is committed to tackling this through our physical activity programmes in schools.”

Low levels of physical activity are a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

The Growing Up in Ireland study is carried out jointly by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD).


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