College survey finds one in five children going to school hungry

A new survey, carried out by the Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI Galway, has found that the number of children going to school or bed hungry has increased to 21 per cent of the more than 16,000 children surveyed, compared to 17 per cent in 2006.

The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children Survey 2010 which was launched this week by Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, is a cross-sectional study conducted in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO ) Regional Office for Europe and is run every four years. The 2010 Irish HBSC survey was carried out by the Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI Galway and aims to increase our understanding of young people’s health and well-being, health behaviours, and their social context.

A total of 16,060 children aged 9-18 from 256 schools across Ireland participated in the survey which sought information on a number of key areas with one section showing that 21 per cent of children surveyed often go to school or to bed hungry because of a lack of food in the home. Despite this, many responses showed in other areas showed improvements in general health behaviour and well-being, however, it has been generally agreed that more progress is needed.

In relation to food consumption, overall 20 per cent of children reported that they consume fruit more than once a day, up from 19 per cent in 2006, and 20 per cent reported eating vegetables more than once a day, up from 18 per cent in 2006. The proportion of children eating sweets daily or more often was 37 per cent in 2010, a decrease from the 39 per cent in 2006, and those who reported soft drink consumption daily or more often was 21 per cent in 2010, down from 26 per cent in 2006. When it came to level of exercise and physical activity the survey found that there has been little change with 51 per cent of children reporting exercising four or more times a week. The proportion of children who reported excellent health was 33 per cent while those who felt very happy was 50 per cent, and those with a high life satisfaction was 76 per cent, showing little change from the HBSC 2006 survey.

The sexual behaviour section of the survey showed that overall 27 per cent of 15 to 17 year olds report that they have ever had sex, and of those who report having had sex 93 per cent report using a condom the last time they had sex and 59 per cent report that they had used the birth control pill. Overall, there was a decrease from 2006 in reports of tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis use among school children in Ireland.

Launching the survey Minister Reilly said: “While I am encouraged by the reduction in smoking, alcohol and drug use and a decrease in injuries among school-going children, much remains to be done. I am, however, very concerned at the statistics around exercise and physical activity and the number of children who still remain hungry either going to school or going to bed at night.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Colette Kelly of the Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI Galway, said: “This report brings some good news about the health behaviours of children in Ireland with a decrease in smoking and alcohol use for example. Yet still more needs to be done to improve their health, in particular around nutrition and physical activity. Importantly, the majority of children in Ireland report to having high life satisfaction and being happy, a fundamental aspect of childhood, that we need to ensure continues.”



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