Many five-year-olds overweight or obese
Economic background and amount of ‘screen-time’ linked with poor eating
Children who spent three or more hours in front of a screen were considerably more likely to consume unhealthy foods more often and five-year-olds from more socially disadvantaged families were found to have higher levels of daily screen-time
One in five five-year-olds is either overweight or obese, according to findings from the Growing Up in Ireland longitudinal study published today.
The latest findings represent the results of interviews with the families of 11,100 five-year-olds, previously interviewed in 2008 and 2011. The interviews were carried out between March and September this year.
The problem of obesity was first identified when the children were three years old and continues to be a cause for concern. Girls are more likely than boys to be overweight.
Fifteen per cent of the children are overweight and 5 per cent are obese.
Some 39 per cent of those who were overweight at three years remain so at five with 11 per cent moving into the obese category while 38 per cent of those who were obese at three remained so at five.
A child’s socioeconomic background continues to be associated with being overweight or obese – both occur more frequently among less advantaged families.
Nine per cent of children whose mother had a Junior Certificate or less were in the obese range compared with 4 per cent of those whose mother had a degree.
The study found that the average five-year-old consumed about 1,500 calories per day while children from lower income groups consumed about d 23 per cent more calories on average each day.
The amount of “screen- time” the children engage in – hours spent each day in front of any type of screen such as TV, smartphone, computer – is associated with poorer eating habits and higher levels of obesity.
Children who spent three or more hours in front of a screen were considerably more likely to consume unhealthy foods more often and five-year-olds from more socially disadvantaged families were found to have higher levels of daily screen-time.
Prof James Williams, research professor at the ESRI and principal investigator of the Growing Up in Ireland study, said the issue of obesity needed to be addressed.
“In the main our five-year- olds are in good health. However, the overweight and obesity issue is a major one. If you have a child who is manifesting these trends at this stage of their lives the chances are they have a much higher probability of sustaining that later in life into adulthood and the effects of that are felt in a number of different areas,” he said.
“The child’s immediate wellbeing is affected, their sense of self-esteem can be adversely impacted upon and their peer relationships affected. Into later life you start to pick up other issues – cardiovascular and respiratory problems and a higher chance of type 2 diabetes.”
While the study found that 98 per cent of the five-year-olds were in good health, Prof Williams said it was important to remember the 2 per cent who were not.
The number finding it difficult to make ends meet financially has more than doubled since the families were first interviewed five years ago at the onset of the recession.
Prof Williams said the fact that one in four parents would not have been able to afford to send their child to preschool were it not for the free preschool scheme was significant.
The study found that the majority of parents reported their children had adjusted well to starting school with 84 per cent of them looking forward to going to school more than once a week. Girls were more positive about school than boys.
Most parents have a positive relationship with their five- year-olds, scoring very highly on positive aspects of parent- child relationship scales and being in the lower ranges of scales measuring parent-child conflict.