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Posted 11 March 2014

Study: Over 20% of children overweight or obese, but signs of stabilisation emerging

The latest Irish results from COSI, the European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative, which monitors childhood obesity levels by measuring children in sample schools all over Europe, shows that the levels of obesity and overweight children in Ireland remains high but that the rate has stabilised over time.

“The rates of overweight and obesity have shown decreases at age 7, and stabilisation at age 9, while the overall incidence remains of concern,” said Professor Cecily Kelleher from the National Nutrition Surveillance Centre, University College Dublin, who conducted the study for the Health Service Executive (HSE).

“Those with responsibility for caring for children and educating the public on health and wellbeing therefore have much to do to continue to tackle this issue.”

“Critically, the observed reduction or leveling off is not happening in DEIS or disadvantaged schools, and this has implications for all, including health and public service partners, particularly those working on implementation of the Healthy Ireland framework,” added Professor Kelleher, Head of the UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Population Science, University College Dublin.

“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, among others.”

The study comprises 12,236 children’s measurements in 163 schools collected on three occasions in 2008, 2010 and again in 2012.

“The 2012 COSI results show that more than 20% of our children remain overweight or obese, but that rates have decreased or showed signs of stabilisation in some age groups. This is welcome news, but the overall concern about the level of overweight among our children remains,” said Dr Stephanie O’Keeffe, National Director of Health and Wellbeing, HSE.

“Later in 2014, the health services will introduce a pilot growth monitoring programme in primary schools, as part of the school health check for 5-6 year olds in 4 pilot HSE areas - Mayo, Laois-Offaly, Dublin 15 and Cork City,” said Dr Cate Hartigan, Head of Health Promotion and Improvement, HSE, who outlined a new growth monitoring project to be introduce this year.

“Parents will be given feedback on their child’s growth, and if required, advice on steps they can take at home to ensure they rebalance diet and activity levels as their child grows.  Any children whose growth results show signs of clinical obesity will be offered a community based lifestyle intervention programme based on the successful W82GO programme delivered by the Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street.”

“Healthy Ireland, the Government Framework for Improved Health and Wellbeing seeks to proactively improve the health and wellbeing of the population and we know that tackling childhood obesity requires the whole of government and whole of society response that this framework can deliver,” she added.

  • The HSE partners with Safefood and the Department of Health in the current Childhood Obesity Media Campaign. This campaign aims to empower parents to make lifestyle changes  by becoming good role models for their children and by implementing the six key messages of the campaign. These related to food portions, managing treat foods, replacing sugary drinks, becoming more active, less screen time and encouraging more sleep. Support resources are available via and

  • The successfully evaluated, Be Active After School Programme, funded by the HSE and co-ordinated by the local sports partnerships is currently delivered by voluntary trained parents and teachers in 342 schools throughout the 26 counties. By the end of 2013, 28,000 children had participated in the programme with 2,500 parents and 1487 trained teachers. This after school programme of varied activities and taster sessions, delivered in the school setting is open to all pupils of participating schools free of charge. All national schools (incl. DEIS schools) are invited to participate in the programme.

  • Plans are underway to extend the very successful W82GO programme for clinically obese children into community settings. This will happen initially in the 4 pilot sites where we will introduce growth monitoring as part of the school health check for 5-6 year olds. Currently this programme is only available through the Children’s University Hospital Temple Street and attendance is only possible for those children and families who can travel to the hospital on a weekly basis.

  • The Healthy Food Made Easy and Cook It peer led programmes are targeted at disadvantaged communities, teaching participant’s basic nutrition, food labelling and cookery skills. Participants are trained so that they too can roll out the training in their own localities.

  • The Lifestyle Triple P Parenting programme is offered to parents of overweight and obese children in the midlands, Tallaght and Darndale areas.

The Get Ireland Active web site is a one stop shop for the promotion of physical activity for individuals and families interested in increasing their participation in physical activity.

(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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Study: Over 20% of children overweight or obese, but signs of stabilisation emerging
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