One in five 5-year olds overweight or obese

By June Shannon Obesity News   |   21st Feb 2019

Children from lower income families at greater risk of obesity

A new report has found that one in five 5-year olds in Ireland were either overweight or obese and children from lower income families were more likely to be unhealthily heavy for their height.

According to the latest data from Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) the national longitudinal study of children, 15 per cent of five-year olds were overweight and five per cent were obese.

The GUI study was carried out by a consortium of researchers led by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and is based on interviews with more than 9,000 families conducted when the children were nine months, three years and five years old.

The study revealed that girls were more likely to be overweight or obese than boys and the risk of being overweight or obese was also greater in children in lower income families, those with overweight parents and children who had been overweight or obese at the age of three.

Children in families living in socio-economic disadvantage are already at greater risk of poor outcomes

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According to the study, “Of those who had been overweight at three, 51 per cent were overweight or obese at five and of those who had been obese at three, 75 per cent were overweight or obese at age five. Nevertheless, the fact that nearly half of those who had been overweight at age three were non-overweight by age five shows that improvement is possible.”

Overall the majority of five-year olds were reported by their mothers to be in good health with 77 per cent described as “very healthy, no problems.” The percentage of children reported to be very healthy was even higher in the highest income families at 80 per cent.

However, the report found significant differences in relation to the health and development of children at five years old according to their gender. For example, boys were less likely to be ‘very healthy’ (74% compared to 79% of girls), more likely to have a chronic health condition (21% compared to 15%), and more likely to sustain an injury requiring medical attention (30% compared to 25%). The only area in which boys fared better than girls was in relation to being overweight/obesity (18% compared to 23% of girls).

According to the researchers, “the report highlights that children in families living in socio-economic disadvantage are already at greater risk of poor outcomes in areas as diverse as health, overweight/obesity, socio-emotional difficulties and school-readiness.”

“Longitudinally, the report further showed some persistence of outcomes over time so that children with poorer outcomes at age three were more likely to also have poorer outcomes at age five,” the researchers added.

“We know that Ireland faces losing a generation of children to obesity related disease if these worrying trends continue,"

Ms Kathryn Reilly, Policy Manager, Irish Heart Foundation

Commenting Ms Kathryn Reilly, Policy Manager with the Irish Heart Foundation said, “This research places the crisis in children’s health in the context of childhood overweight and obesity which is increasingly prevalent, showing a trend where overweight and obesity is following children as they get older.”

“We know that Ireland faces losing a generation of children to obesity related disease if these worrying trends continue. Research by the World Obesity Federation predicts that by 2025, 241,000 schoolchildren in Ireland will be overweight or obese by 2025. As many as 9,000 will have impaired glucose intolerance; 2,000 will have type 2 diabetes; 19,000 will have high blood pressure; and 27,000 will have first stage fatty liver disease. The consequences for the future health of these children will be dire.

“Childhood obesity is a complex problem with a range of causes. Society needs to take a long-term and multi-faceted approach if we are to tackle the problem effectively, and looking at the research published today, these interventions and actions must begin as early as possible. Policies such as encouraging children to exercise more, using the proceeds of a sugar sweetened drinks tax to fund family food initiatives and clear food labeling, can play a part in improving children’s health. Another crucial area of action is to reduce the impact of food and non-alcoholic drinks that are high in fat, sugar and salt.”

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