Children's diets now healthier in Ireland than many EU countries
Irish children's eating habits are now closer to the famed Mediterranean diet than those of youngsters in Spain and Greece, who are the most obese in Europe.
Nearly one-in-10 boys and one-in-20 girls in Ireland are obese, but the problem is even worse among children in several other European countries.
In the warmer southern countries more children are shunning the traditional diet high in fruit and vegetables and indulging more in snacking with less exercise.
The latest data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) childhood obesity surveillance initiative show that southern European countries have the highest rate of child obesity.
In Italy, Cyprus, Spain, Greece, Malta and San Marino as many as one-in-five boys (ranging from 18pc to 21pc) is obese.
Ireland, France, Norway, Latvia and Denmark are among the countries with the lowest rates, ranging from 5pc to 9pc in either boys or girls.
But public health specialists warn that although obesity rates in Ireland have stabilised overall, this masks an ongoing rise among children from less well-off backgrounds.
The WHO European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (or COSI), is a unique system that for more than 10 years has measured trends in overweight and obesity levels among primary school-aged children. It involves taking standardised weight and height measurements from around 250,000 children across the WHO European region among youngsters aged six to nine years.
"In countries like Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece - although rates are high - there has been an important decrease which is attributable to a very significant effort that these countries have put in recent years into management and prevention of childhood obesity," says Dr Joao Breda, head of the WHO European office for prevention and control of non-communicable diseases.
Many countries also submitted other nutritional data, such as eating habits, as part of the programme.
Encouragingly, there were several countries in which three-quarters or more of boys and girls are eating fruit either every day or most days of the week.
These include Ireland, Denmark, Albania, Montenegro, Portugal, Italy, San Marino, Russia (Moscow) and Turkmenistan.
Children in these countries also had lower consumption of foods like pizza, French fries, fried potatoes, hamburgers, sausages or meat pies, consuming them one to three days per week or never. And 93pc of children in Ireland have their breakfast every day.