Quarter of children surveyed obese or overweight

Asthma most common ongoing illness, affecting 6 per cent of three-year-olds

Some 19 per cent of three-year-old children were classed as overweight and 6 per cent were obese in a study of 10,000 children conducted as part of the latest Growing up in Ireland report which will be published today.

The report authors said it was a major concern that a quarter of three-year-olds were either overweight or obese. “Although more acute in the most socio-economically disadvantaged group, it is a problem across all levels of society and further work is needed to identify the pathways that are leading to what is now being termed an ‘epidemic’ in some circles.”

The study found that 9 per cent of children living with parents who never worked were classed as obese, compared with 5 per cent of children in higher social classes.

The Growing up in Ireland: Development from Birth to Three Years report tracked the lives of children from birth and found that a gap began to open up in the health of children before they were three years old.


Young children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to be obese, have poorer diets and display behavioural problems than children from more advantaged families.

The authors said many observers may be disheartened to see that socio-economic disadvantages were appearing in a cohort of children at such a young age. They said identifying what triggered the disadvantage between the age of nine months and three years was likely to be a research priority.

The study is being conducted by a consortium of researchers led by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and Trinity College Dublin and this latest report was written by James Williams, Aisling Murray, Cathal McCrory and Sinéad McNally.

While 98 per cent of children were reported to be in good health, asthma was the most commonly reported ongoing illness, affecting 6 per cent of three-year-olds. The average three-year-old had 2.6 consultations with their GP in the previous year but children who were covered by a full medical card tended to visit the doctor more, even when accounting for their health status.

The study also found that children who were brought up in families where parents were in some form of stress were more likely to display behavioural difficulties. It said behavioural difficulties displayed by children at three years were related to changes in the stress levels of their parents since the children were nine months old. It said parenting styles which were low in warmth and consistency or high in hostility were related to more behavioural difficulties.

Some 85 per cent of children surveyed were living in two-parent families. Of the children in one-parent families, 28 per cent had no contact with the non-resident parent. Some 23 per cent saw the non-resident parent daily while 25 per cent saw that parent once or twice a week.

Half of the children surveyed were in some form of non-parental childcare with more than a quarter cared for in a creche or some form of preschool. Some 54 per cent of mothers worked outside the home and worked, on average, for 29 hours a week.

Making ends meet
The study also found that the percentage of families who were experiencing difficulties in making ends meet had increased from 44 per cent, when the children were nine months old, to 61 per cent, when they were three.

Almost two-thirds of families said that the recession had had a big effect on their lives since 2008. Cutting back on basics was mentioned by almost one-third of families who said they were affected by the recession.

The Growing Up in Ireland website is available here

Alison Healy

Alison Healy

Alison Healy is a contributor to The Irish Times