Almost 25% of teens overweight

 

While more than a quarter of Irish 13-years-olds are overweight or obese, over three quarters of obese teens are exercising to lose weight, a new report has found.

The results of the Growing Up in Ireland study released today also found that of the 8,500 children surveyed, 20 per cent were overweight and 6 per cent were obese.

Being obese or overweight was much more common among girls than boys (30 per cent compared with 23 per cent). Girls were also less likely to exercise but more likely to report that they were trying to lose weight. When the teenagers were asked if they were trying to change their weight, 39 per cent of girls and 30 per cent of boys reported trying to lose weight.

The report notes a strong relationship between levels of exercise and weight. Some 60 per cent of the teenagers exercised six or more days in the last 14 days. Almost half of boys exercised on nine or more days in a fortnight compared to less than a third of girls.

Over three quarters (78 per cent) of obese children were exercising to lose weight while over half (55 per cent) were exercising and dieting. However fewer obese children took part in sports outside PE classes than other children.

The report found some changes in weight status between when the children were first interviewed aged 9 and the same children were interviewed four years later aged 13.

Overweight and obesity in 13-year-olds was strongly related to their weight aged nine. Over half of overweight nine-year-olds remained overweight aged 13 but a third had become a healthy weight. Most children without weight problems aged nine remained that way, with one in ten developing weight problems by 13.

Prof James Williams, principal investigator and co-director of the research, said being overweight for a young person increased their risk of developing asthma and diabetes.

Prof Williams highlighted gender and social background differences that emerged from the finding and that boys were more likely to exercise than girls and those from socially advantaged backgrounds had a higher rate of exercise.

The stark impact of the economic downturn on families was clear. The percentage of families having difficulty making ends meet has more than doubled in the past four years (to 61 per cent). The families having “great difficulty or difficulty” making ends meet more than tripled in four years to 23 per cent. Respondents said as a consequence families were not able to afford luxuries.

Among the “particularly worrying” effects of the recession identified by report authors are that 31 per cent could not afford or had cut basics, 13 per cent were behind with utility bills and 11 per cent were behind with the rent or mortgage.

Families with lowest levels of maternal education were hardest hit. More than twice as many families with mothers of the lowest education levels were behind on their utility bills compared with families where the mother has a degree.

While the percentage of mothers employed increased by 2 per cent, the percentage of fathers unemployed increased by six per cent (to a tenth) and those employed fell by 6 per cent (to 84 per cent).

Speaking on RTÉs Morning Ireland Prof Williams noted that one finding from the research was evidence of disengagement with the second-level school system.

The 13-year-olds interviewed in first year were more positive about school than 13-year-olds in second year.

Gender and social background differences were of concern to the authors “given the importance of school engagement for longer-term achievement and retention”

Girls and those from more advantaged backgrounds were also more positive about school and teachers.

The report showed significant gender differences in behaviour with boys getting detention (27 per cent) or extra work as punishment (45 per cent) twice as often as girls. Levels of detention were more prevalent among teenagers of more disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Growing Up in Ireland is a government funded longitudinal study tracking the development of two cohorts of children, infant and child. It is funded by the Department of Children and the research is led by the Economics and Social Research Institute and Trinity College Dublin.

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