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Childhood obesity levels stabilising but remain an issue in Ireland

Today, the Health Service Executive in conjunction with the National Nutrition Surveillance Centre in UCD publish the Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) in the Republic of Ireland.
While the latest results from Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) in Ireland show that levels of excess weight in children are stabilising they also indicate that:
o   at least one in five children* are overweight or obese;
o   more girls than boys are overweight or obese across all ages; and
o   those attending DEIS schools tend to have higher levels of overweight and obesity and the gap becomes wider as children get older.
Launching the report this morning, Minister Corcoran-Kennedy, Minister of State for Health Promotion said “I’d like to acknowledge and thank the children and their parents who consented to participate and provide growth measurements as well as the individual schools and Department of Education who facilitate the researchers in collecting the date.  Their support and involvement in research initiatives such as this is so important and valuable. The Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative is a core tool to help us monitor our progress towards achieving the targets set out in The Healthy Weight for Ireland: Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016-2025.  The plan sets a short-term target for a sustained downward trend in levels of excess weight in children and a reduction in the gap in obesity levels between the highest and lowest socio-economic groups by 10%. The unfortunate truth is that we are on course to become the most obese nation in Europe, unless we take action now.  Tackling childhood obesity is a key priority for me as Minister."
The report published today, provides a picture of the height, weight and BMI in primary school aged children in Ireland currently as well as the trends over time since 2008.  It will be repeated at intervals over the lifetime of the policy and will provide valuable information to policymakers and practitioners.
Commenting on the findings Sarah O’Brien, HSE National Lead for the Healthy Eating Active Living Programme said “While it is positive that the levels of excess weight in children appears to be levelling off over time, it remains at quite a high level – with at least one in five children carrying excess weight that will damage their health both now and into the future. 
“The findings indicate that we still have a significant way to go in creating environments in our homes, schools and communities where every child has the potential to grow and develop healthily from birth into adulthood. 
“The ten steps forward in the Healthy Weight for Ireland: Obesity Policy and Action Plan require action across a multiple sectors including actions such as reformulation of food products to reduce sugar, fat and salt levels, reducing exposure to marketing and promotion of foods high in fat, salt and sugar, fiscal measures such as the proposed sugar tax and increasing access to free drinking water in schools.  
In addition to these, what we do in our homes, schools and communities to help build healthy habits for all children and families is vital to our efforts to prevent childhood obesity.  These are the critical habits that will help those children who are a healthy weight now stay a healthy weight and those who are overweight or obese achieve a healthier weight as they grow and develop  The key healthy habits are:
1.       reduce portion sizes,
2.       manage treat foods – not every day,
3.       replace sugary drinks with water,
4.       make being active fun – everyday,
5.       have less screen-time, and
6.       encourage more sleep.”
The National Nutrition Surveillance Centre will present the findings at the Association for the Study of Obesity on the Island Ireland (ASOI – www.ASOI.ie) annual conference later today. “We now have over seventeen thousand examinations from children over four rounds, carried out in the same schools” said Professor Cecily Kelleher, Director of the National Nutrition Surveillance Centre. She added “These findings highlight the need to address the gap between better off and less advantaged children and to focus on interventions that appeal to both girls and boys.”
Key findings
4,909 children across 138 schools participated in the 2015 survey.  Since the first survey was conducted in 2008, it has been repeated three times giving researchers access to 17,145 examinations to analyse and monitor trends in healthy weight, overweight and obesity in primary school aged children in Ireland.
Over the four rounds of the surveillance (2008-2015) some key trends have emerged including:
·         the levels of overweight and obesity in 1st class children (age 6-7 years) and those aged 8-12 years appear to be stabilising though not in those children attending DEIS schools; and
·         there is a marked difference across genders with more girls tending to be overweight and obese than boys.
International evidence points to a higher level of overweight and obesity in children from lower socio-economic backgrounds.  The trends emerging from the surveillance in Ireland reveal a similar pattern.   When data from children attending DEIS schools is compared with that of children attending other schools,  those attending DEIS schools tend to have higher levels of overweight and obesity and the gap becomes wider as children get older:
o   21.7% vs 16.5% in First Class
o   30.8% vs 18.6% in Fourth Class
o   32.2% vs 18.4% in Sixth Class
The 2015 results show that according to the International Taskforce on Obesity standards the current combined prevalence of overweight and obesity in Irish children:
•                    measured in 1st class (aged 6-7) as 16.9%, with the prevalence in girls at 20.4% and boys at 13.2%. 
•                    measured in 4th class (aged 9-10) is 20.2%, with the prevalence in girls at 24.8% and boys at 14.5%.
•                    measured in 6th class (aged 11-12 years) is 20.6%, with the prevalence in girls at 22.9% and boys at 18.0%.
A copy of the report is available to view here.
Last updated on: 04 / 05 / 2017