Sunday 19 August 2018

Children in disadvantaged schools are more likely to be obese

CONCERN: Obesity in children is directly linked to poverty. Stock picture
CONCERN: Obesity in children is directly linked to poverty. Stock picture

Lynne Kelleher

Morbid obesity among young Irish children is twice as high in disadvantaged schools, according to a new study.

The research examined childhood obesity among more than 7,000 six-year-old and seven-year-old children across Ireland.

The authors found that morbid obesity was twice as common in disadvantaged schools with a rate of 3.2pc or one in every 30 children.

When it came to obesity, the study also noted there was a rate of 7.1pc in disadvantaged schools compared to 4.6pc in non-disadvantaged schools.

The authors noted: "Obesity was significantly more prevalent in disadvantaged schools than in non-disadvantaged schools and in urban schools.

"[The] prevalence of morbid obesity was significantly higher in disadvantaged schools whereas no significant differences were observed between urban and rural schools."

The authors of the study presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity in Vienna said their findings should highlight the extent childhood obesity in Ireland.

They said: "These findings should raise awareness of the scale of the problem and of the population groups at a higher risk of obesity and of morbid obesity.

"The implementation of interventions to prevent progression to obesity and morbid obesity should be supported and in addition, interventions to treat both types of obesity are warranted such that childhood co-morbidities can be reduced," said the report.

The study was carried out by the National Nutrition Surveillance Centre, University College Dublin and the Division of Population Health at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

They examined a nationally representative cross-sectional sample of 7,650 children - with just over half of them girls and with a mean age of 7.2 from the years 2008 to 2015.

Height and weight were objectively measured by trained nutritionists following the World Health Organisation protocols.

Overall, the rates of obesity and morbid obesity in the study were 4.8pc and 1.7pc, respectively but there was a downward trend in recent years.

The prevalence of obesity was 5.4pc in 2008 and 4.5pc in 2010, 2012 and 2015.

Morbid obesity was found in 2.0pc of children in 2008, in 1.7pc in 2010 and in 1.5pc in both 2012 and 2015.

The authors of the study - Trends in the prevalence of childhood obesity and morbid obesity in the Republic of Ireland - noted that "both obesity and morbid obesity seemed to be stabilising over time".

They said: "Obesity and morbid obesity rates could be plateauing among Irish school-aged children."

Other research released last week shows that youngsters who watch one extra junk food advert a week (over the average of six) consume an additional 350 calories in foods high in salt, sugar and fat every week.

This equates to an additional 18,000 calories each year, according to the largest study of its kind in the UK, which involved more than 3,300 children and teenagers aged 11 to 19 years.

The study was conducted by Cancer Research UK and was presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Austria last week.

It adds to the considerable body of evidence that TV and streaming adverts can influence young people's unhealthy diets.

"Junk food marketing is associated with obesity in young people of all ages, and we know that obesity is linked to at least 13 types of cancer," said Dr Jyotsna Vohra, head of the Cancer Policy Research Centre.

The report also found that social media stars and YouTube vloggers might be encouraging children to eat more unhealthy snacks.

Sunday Independent

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