Children are glued to a screen for three hours a day
One-in-20 as young as seven is now obese, new study reveals
Many children as young as seven are spending more than three hours a day glued to some form of screen, while one in 20 is obese.
The addiction to computers is seen among children from all backgrounds, but it is highest in the least affluent homes where screen time runs for hours on weekdays.
Across all groups these children are spending one to two hours a day looking at a screen, increasing at the weekend.
The insight into the lives of the nations 7-8 year olds is revealed today in the latest report of 'Growing Up in Ireland', which has been tracking them since birth.
The majority are healthy, but worrying trends have emerged with 15pc of children overweight.
As many as 27pc of children from poorer homes are overweight or obese, compared to 16pc from the highest income families.
More than a third of children in the most socially disadvantaged families had a poor diet, but it was also as high as 17pc among youngsters with better off backgrounds.
"On a typical day at the weekend 51pc of boys and 39pc of girls had more than three hours screen time," the ESRI report showed.
Significantly, the survey of 5,000 children reveals that those who found it difficult to settle into school at five years of age are still having adjustment problems two years later.
They have difficulty coping with the pace of school work.
Around 14pc of mothers said their child found it difficult to sit still and listen in class.
The report highlights the need to identify children who have a negative attitude to school early on, otherwise it can persist.
Most children are doing well on measures of social and emotional development.
Girls have higher scores than boys in social skills.
When it comes to free time, 35pc read for pleasure daily but 22pc did so less than one to two times a week.
Boys are more likely to play physically active games, but also computer games.
Girls prefer dance, music, crafts and reading.
ESRI research professor James Williams said the findings showed there is a need for early identification and intervention for children who have a negative attitude to school.
A separate study involving the same age group confirmed that free access to GP leads to a higher rate of visits.
It also showed parents who are less well off find it more difficult to be able to afford to bring their child to a doctor.
The survey was conducted before the introduction of free GP care for the under-sixes in 2015.
It compared the type of access children had in 2008 at age nine months and in 2011 when they were three years old.
Lower income children without a full medical card or GP visit care faced financial barriers seeing a doctor at age nine months. By age three the difference between children from poorer and better off homes had disappeared because of wider eligibility for medical care or GP visit card.
Associate research professor Anne Nolan said: "Chronic ill-health can be a lifelong burden for the child, their family and the wider community.
"Early intervention is critical as health in early life is linked to outcomes in later life, including education and employment.
"For this reason it is important to understand how the financing system for healthcare in Ireland can restrict children's use of GP services."
The figures back up GPs' warnings that extension of free care will increase visits.