Children from poorer homes 'watch more TV and eat fattier foods'
CHILDREN from disadvantaged homes consume 23pc more calories than better-off youngsters each day, and spend much more time in front of TV and computer screens.
A new Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) report highlights the widening health and social gap between Irish children by the time they are just five years old. It also lays bare the growing strain placed on families by the economic downturn.
It reveals that the average five-year-old consumes approximately 1,500 calories per day, but children from less advantaged backgrounds, such as lower-income groups, consume 23pc more calories on average each day.
And this higher calorie intake is clearly related to obesity rates. The report also shows that children whose mothers are educated to Junior Cert level or lower are more than twice as likely to be obese (9pc) as those whose mothers have a degree (4pc).
Five-year-olds from disadvantaged families also spend more time in front of a screen -- whether TV, computer, tablet, smartphone or computer games.
Some 20pc spend three or more hours of an average weekday in front of a screen, compared with 8pc of those whose mothers were graduates.
But regardless of family income, children who spent a lot of time in front of a screen were more likely to eat unhealthy foods, such as crisps and biscuits.
The report -- which has tracked 11,000 children from infancy -- found that 98pc of them were in good health at five, with the remainder described as sometimes quite ill or almost always unwell.
Just 1pc had a medically diagnosed problem with their emotions, concentration or behaviour, though 4pc of the children were reported by their mothers to have definite or severe difficulties, and a further 15pc were reported to have minor difficulties.
It found that most five-year-olds had adjusted well to school, with just 5pc complaining or not looking forward to it.
The report also shows that just one in 10 families put their children's names down for schools while they're still babies, with over half waiting till the year they're due to start.
However, well-to-do families were much more likely to register their child with a school early, and to put their name down at multiple schools.
The report shows that the number of families finding it difficult to make ends meet has doubled to 25pc over the five years since these children were babies in 2008.
Some 43pc of their families said they couldn't afford or had to cut back on basics, while 17pc said they were behind with utility bills and 14pc were in arrears on their rent or mortgage.
Professor James Williams of the Economic and Social Research Institute, who is the principal investigator of GUI, said the findings show five-year-olds are adjusting well to the challenges of starting school.
"Although in overall terms their health is very good, overweight and obesity continue to be a major cause of concern at five years of age," he said.
The report shows that 20pc of five-year-olds are overweight or obese, though that was down from 25pc at the age three.
Full details of the report will be launched in Croke Park today by Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald.