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Growing Up in Ireland study on 8,000 nine-year-olds reveals one in five are overweight and 5pc are obese

  • Children from poorer backgrounds more likely to be obese and have a negative view of themselves
  • 18pc are overweight, while 5pc are obese
  • Reading test scores showed gap of more than 10 points between the highest and the lowest social class and parental education groups

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In the area of education and cognitive development, 41pc of girls said they “always liked” school compared with 25pc of boys. Stock image

In the area of education and cognitive development, 41pc of girls said they “always liked” school compared with 25pc of boys. Stock image

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Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to have poorer health, higher rates of obesity, more socio-emotional difficulties and a less positive view of school.

New research from the Growing Up in Ireland study has found that children’s health and well-being are most influenced by their family circumstances as well as their gender.

The extensive study of more than 8,000 nine-year-olds and their parents used information gathered in four stages, ranging from nine months in age and culminating in interviews when the same children were nine. The most recent data was collected by researchers from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in 2017/2018.

Initial results from the study were first published in 2018. However, today’s report provides more detailed insights into the lives of these children.

When it comes to physical health, 24pc of girls were found to be overweight or obese, compared with 21pc of boys surveyed. Some 18pc of nine-year-olds were found to be overweight while 5pc were obese. Children in two-parent families, in higher-income households and with third-­level-educated parents were likely to have better health at age nine.

In the area of education and cognitive development, the gender divide was more apparent, with 41pc of girls saying they “always liked” school compared with 25pc of boys.

Some 73pc of girls said they “always liked” their teacher versus 59pc of boys. Some 68pc of girls liked reading compared to 55pc of boys.

However, 54pc of boys said they “always liked” maths compared with 42pc of girls.

Significant differences were found in reading test scores when it came to socio-economic backgrounds. When an average score was 100, there was a gap of more than 10 points between the highest and the lowest social class and parental education groups.

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This gap had widened since the children surveyed started primary school. Those from disadvantaged backgrounds, who were early high performers, were outperformed by children from more advantaged backgrounds by the age of nine.

In the area of development, a child’s self-concept, or how they perceive themselves, was more negative among those from lower-income families. A total of 27pc of them had low or very low self-concept. This compared with 14pc from the ­highest-income families.

In relation to the primary care-giver, 26pc of children whose mother received no education beyond the Junior Certificate had a low self-concept. This compared with just 13pc where the highest level of education was degree or higher.

Almost two-fifths of all nine-year-olds surveyed said they had been picked on in the last year, most commonly in the form of verbal bullying or exclusion.

The changes in the country’s economic growth were mirrored in the study  26pc of parents reported experiencing financial stress when it came to making ends meet in 2013, when the children were five. This compares with 13pc by the time the children were nine.

Money issues were higher among single-parent families, with 29pc saying it was a struggle, versus 10pc of two-parent families.

The favourite leisure activity for children was football and going on the internet (both 27pc), along with playing with friends and reading or writing (both 23pc). More than half (53pc) said they were allowed to go online without adult supervision.


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