Big Kids

Childhood obesity report: 1 in 5 primary school children are classified as overweight

Childhood obesity has been a hot topic for years now. A serious public health problem, the WHO have classified it as a problem that reaches across Europe. For the last twelve years, WHO have been running a Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative to report on the progress of the HSE and the Department of Health’s efforts to tackle this problem in children. 2018 saw the fifth round of surveillance occur, with the previous four happening in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2015. The 2015 and 2018 reports found that progress in reducing childhood obesity had plateaued.  

In response, in 2016, the Department of Health launched the Obesity Action Plan 2016-2025 ‘A Healthy Weight for Ireland’ as part of the Healthy Ireland initiative. The document states short-term targets for overweight and obesity to be achieved in a five-year time frame. Now that we are coming up to the target dates, it’s important to check back in with where our progress was at the last report.

Photo of Toddler Smiling

135 schools consented to participate in the 2018 study. Children in first, second, fourth, and sixth class were measured. Identifying obesity in pre-puberty is essential to predicting the prevalence of the condition into adulthood. In total, 5701 children were examined, composed of 1392, 1486, 1460, and 1363 children from first, second, fourth, and sixth class, respectively.

In total, 1 in 5 surveyed children were classified as having overweight or obesity for their age and sex. Examining prevalence rates more closely demonstrates a significantly greater rate of overweight and obesity in girls than boys across all children. Older classes were shown to have a significantly greater prevalence rate than younger classes. What was also interesting was that there was a significant disparity between disadvantaged schools and other schools. The prevalence of overweight and obesity was significantly greater in children attending schools classified as disadvantaged (DEIS) than other schools. Therefore sixth class children attending disadvantaged schools were at greatest risk of experiencing obesity, followed closely by fourth class. No significant differences in prevalence rates between schools classified as urban and rural were observed in this round of surveillance.

Two Girls Doing School Works

Other factors that the report investigated was the school’s approach to physical activity, their nutrition classes and their food selection. Schools came out of the report very positively, with all schools free from vending machines. 9 out of 10 schools were free from advertising or marketing of energy-dense and nutrient-poor foods and beverages and almost all schools included nutrition education in their curriculum. 9 out of 10 schools also had no sugar-sweetened beverages or sweet and savoury snacks available for students to purchase and all schools included physical education in their curriculum and had an outdoor play area for children. Most children (82%) participated in physical activities as part of a sport or dance club outside of school.

The family survey was mor difficult to glean results from as there was a very low response rate to the surveys. From what was gathered about the family diet, they could see that fruit and vegetable consumption rate is still quite low. Less than half of responders ate vegetables daily, and only 60% ate fruit daily. However, breakfast for the most part is eaten and it seems that most children participated in sports or dance classes outside of school, and were vigorously active for at least an hour each day.

How will the 2021 report compare? It will be interesting to see how the pandemic and lockdown affected these statistics and whether progress has been made in shifting the plateau into a reduction in cases of childhood obesity.

Check out the full report here.

Children Sitting on Brown Chairs Inside the Classroom

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