One in five primary school pupils overweight

Five-year study finds health message may be getting through, but fastest in well-off areas

Dr Stephanie O’Keeffe, National Director of Health and Wellbeing, HSE (left) with Prof Cecily Kelleher from UCD at the launch of the HSE’s Childhood Obesity Surveillance data, in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Dr Stephanie O’Keeffe, National Director of Health and Wellbeing, HSE (left) with Prof Cecily Kelleher from UCD at the launch of the HSE’s Childhood Obesity Surveillance data, in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times


One in five primary-school children are overweight or obese according the latest findings of a five-year study of childhood obesity.

While the study, carried out for the HSE by the National Nutrition Surveillance Centre at UCD found there was a “slight” improvement in obesity levels among seven year olds, researchers said the improvement was not as discernible in schools in disadvantaged areas.

The study calculated the height, weight and waist measurements of seven-year -old pupils, in 163 primary schools in 2008. This was followed a second round which measured seven and nine-year-olds in 2010, and a third round which measured seven, nine and 11-year-olds in 2012.

In all more than 12,000 children’s measurements were taken which were used to calculate body mass indexes for children leading to conclusions of overweightedness or obesity.

According to Dr Cecily Kelleher from UCD the results showed “slight” decrease in the numbers of seven-year-olds who were overweight or obese in 2012, compared with the numbers of overweight or obese seven-year-olds in 2008.

The results also show the numbers of nine-year-olds who were overweight or obese in 2010, was “statistically stable” when-nine-year olds were measured again in 2012.

As 2012 was the first year of measuring 11-year-olds, trends were not discernible from the data.

But Professor Kelleher said “critically” the observed reduction or levelling off was much less marked in disadvantaged schools where the Department of Education’s DEIS (Delivering Equality of opportuinty In Schools) programme is taking place.

The ongoing rates of overweightedness or obesity in these areas had implications for health and public services, particularly the Government’s “Healthy Ireland framework” she said.

Specifically, the results showed the prevalence of overweight pupils aged seven, from non-disadvantaged backgrounds, was 22.4 percent in 2008. But when disadvantaged schools were examined by themselves, the prevalence was 26.6 percent.

Five years later when the prevalence of overweight seven year-olds was examined again, just 17.8 per cent of pupils from non-disadvantaged backgrounds were overweight, a drop of almost five points. But the percentage of overweight pupils in disadvantaged schools had fallen only from 26.6 per cent to 25 per cent.

The results indicate that pupils in disadvantaged areas were not picking up on the healthy eating message as quickly as their better-off counterparts.

In nine-year-olds who were examined in 2010 and 2012 “no statistically significant differences” were found from one examination to the next, although again the percentages of overweight pupils in disadvantaged areas was greater.

The results were also analysed geographically by HSE area, and it was found that among seven-year-olds measured in 2012, the greatest numbers of overweight pupils was in the west of Ireland, at 17.2. per cent for boys and 25.5per cent for girls.

In the Dublin Mid Leinster area the corresponsing figures were 13.1 per cent for boys , and 24.6 per cent for girls. In Dublin North East the figures were 12.6 per cent of boys overweight and 19.1 per cent for girls. In the South area the figures showed 14.8 per cent of boys were overweight, while 16.2 per cent of girls were overweight.

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