Unfit teens in Irish schools show risk of heart disease typically seen in people aged 55-60

New research reveals ‘frightening’ findings over health of sedentary schoolchildren

Schoolchildren as young as 15 years of age are now presenting with warning signs of heart disease typically seen in people aged 55-60, according to new Irish research.

Prof Niall Moyna, head of Dublin City University's school of health and human performance, told an education conference yesterday that the problems associated with unfit teenagers were "frightening".

“It is a ticking time-bomb. They have an increased risk of stroke at 15 and of vascular dementia in old age,” he said.

Prof Moyna was speaking at the Education and Training Boards Ireland annual conference in Killarney.


The research conducted by Dr Sinead Sheridan of DCU, to be published shortly, focused on the health of unfit transition-year students in the greater Dublin area. The study involved identifying these teenagers in a bleep test during a running exercise.

Some 90 per cent of those identified as unfit were also overweight or obese.

Follow-up studies which involved ultrasound imaging and blood samples found that 85 per cent of these teenagers had high blood pressure, while 90 per cent had high levels of fat in their blood.

Some 62 per cent were found to be at a high risk of developing diabetes, while 87 per cent had a vascular age of a person 55 to 60 years of age.


Risks could be reversed up to the age of 30, he said. However, children were becoming more sedentary and latest research indicates that only 12 per cent of schoolchildren were meeting weekly physical health guidelines, he said.

“Every single child in the country should be assessed every year. Let’s have a health-based model in health care not a disease-based health system,” Prof Moyna said. He called for physical education to be made a compulsory subject at primary level to help tackle the problem, while PE should be held three times a week at second level.

“Schoolchildren should be taught about good lifestyle choices and not just biology that they learn from a book.” He also said students who play sport should be given bonus points in their Leaving Certificate.

Team sports, in particular, help students to learn vital skills such as self-discipline and problem-solving.

“In sport, skills are performed in an unpredictable, ever-changing environment. These are the skills that are required to be a flexible, adaptable problem-solver.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent