ONE quarter of Irish schoolchildren examined in a major health study were overweight, with twice as many girls as boys now classified as clinically obese.
The primary school lifestyle project also found that one-in-five children watched three or more hours of TV a day – and almost half of those also played at least one hour of computer games on a school night.
But the greatest concern focussed on diet with half the Irish youngsters surveyed ingesting far above the recommended daily salt intake due to their reliance on processed and take-away foods.
Almost one in ten were found to have high blood pressure as a result.
The Cork Children's Lifestyle Study (CCLS) ranks as one of the most detailed examinations of the diet and lifestyle habits of Irish primary school children ever attempted.
The study was conducted over 14 months across a sample of 1,075 children in 27 schools spread throughout Cork city and north Cork.
The children who participated were all drawn from third and fourth Class and aged 9-11 years.
CCLS was funded by the National Children's Research Centre in Crumlin and led by Prof Ivan Perry, Dr Janas Harrington and Ms Eimear Keane from UCC.
The key findings include:
* 20pc of children were overweight.
* 5pc were clinically obese – 7pc of girls compared to 4pc of boys
* Obese children were twice as likely to have no physical activity over the week compared to normal weight children.
* 75pc of children achieved 60 minutes of vigorous physical activity a day.
* 20pc of youngsters watched three or more hours of TV daily.
* 40pc of children spent at least one hour playing computer games daily.
* 10pc of youngsters admitted to have inadequate sleep with the rate highest amongst obese children.
The study co-ordinators admitted that greatest concern is focussed on the area of diet with 5pc of children not eating any breakfast before school, while 15pc are treated to a take-away more than once a week
More than 50pc of the children surveyed were found to have salt intakes far in excess of the recommended daily allowance of 5g.