Obesity levels down in seven-year-olds – but not in poverty-hit areas
THE number of seven-year-olds who are overweight or obese is falling, but the change is not being seen to the same degree in youngsters from disadvantaged schools.
While there is no similar downturn recorded among nine-year-olds, the rates of overweight and obesity in this age group have stabilised.
The trends emerged from the results of measuring 12,236 children in 163 schools in 2008, 2010 and 2012 as part of the European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative.
Professor Cecily Kelleher of UCD School of Public Health pointed out that while the figures were encouraging, there was no room for complacency, with around one in four Irish children overweight or obese.
She said the study did not investigate why there had been an improvement but suggested public health messages about portions and a balanced diet could be having an effect.
"Critically, the observed reduction or levelling off is not happening in disadvantaged schools, and this has implications for all, including health and public service partners, particularly those working on implementation of the Healthy Ireland framework.
"We must ensure that our efforts are focused on bringing the improvements demonstrated by this data to bear on all our children, particularly children who are disadvantaged by poverty, and education, housing and transport deficits."
The results showed that in 2008, rates of overweight and obesity in seven-year-old boys were 18.3pc and by 2012 they had dropped to 14.4pc. Among girls of the same age, the rates stood at 26.4pc in 2008 and they fell to 21.4pc in 2012.
When researchers measured children who were classed as obese, the rate stood at 4.7pc for boys in 2008 and this went down to 2.2pc in 2008.
Obesity among seven-year-old girls fell from 7.5pc to 5.5pc over the same three years.
The rate of overweight and obesity in seven-year-old children in better-off areas was 22.4pc in 2008 and this fell to 17.8pc in 2012. The rate among children from disadvantaged schools went from 26.6pc to 25pc over the same time.
The percentage of overweight and obese nine-year-olds went from 19.7pc in 2010 to 20pc in 2012. The proportion of obese boys in this age group went down from 4.4pc to 4.1pc, while for girls there was a slight drop from 4.8pc to 4.3pc.
Similar trends are being seen in the UK, with poorer children more likely to be obese, leading to fears that the least well-off households may be caught in an obesity trap.
A long-delayed national plan to improve physical activity levels among children will not be ready until the end of the year and there are also concerns that some schools will cut back on physical education time.
"Obesity in childhood tracks into adulthood and the better we intervene to prevent our children from becoming an unhealthy weight the better their childhood and adult health will be," Dr Stephanie O'Keeffe, the HSE's director of health and well-being, said.