Ireland’s rate of alcohol consumption is one of the highest in Europe, is responsible for 90 deaths a month, and is a factor in half of all suicides, a meeting of the HSE West’s regional health forum was told recently in Galway.
The news came hot on the heels of an NUI Galway study which revealed that more than one in four school children admit to getting drunk.
Addressing the forum Ronan Toomey of the Department of Health’s health and wellbeing programme outlined the issues which threaten people’s health. These include obesity, smoking and alcohol.
Commenting on the rate of alcohol consumption forum chairperson Cllr Padraig Conneely wondered if he had anything to say about the Arthur’s Day celebration and the use of alcohol on that day.
The health representative, while declining to comment directly on the event - other than to say it was a “very controversial issue ”- said there was “huge concern” about alcohol consumption in Ireland and the way in which it is consumed.
Binge drinking is a huge problem, he said, and is evident at weekends in cities, towns, and villages. He said his Department had “enormous concerns” about the type and quantity of alcohol being consumed in Ireland. He added that the Minister for Health James Reilly is keen to do more regarding the pricing and availability of alcohol and how it is viewed.
Many people living in Ireland and their families are affected by chronic diseases and disabilities relating to poor diet, smoking, alcohol misuse and physical inactivity, he outlined.
Quoting from the Healthy Ireland - a Framework for Improved Health and Wellbeing 2013 to 2025 report, he told the meeting that 20 per cent of all children are overweight. Almost one in 10 three-year-olds in lower socio economic groups are obese compared to one in 20 from better off backgrounds. Two out of three adults and 25 per cent of pregnant women are overweight or obese.
Mr Toomey stated that smoking causes 5,500 deaths annually. About one million people in this country smoke tobacco products with 12 per cent of children aged 11 to 17 years being current smokers. The rates of cigarette use are highest among women aged 18 to 29 from poor communities. Almost 60 per cent come from that group compared to 28 per cent from well off areas.
Headford Fianna Fail county councillor Mary Hoade said education was the way forward. In the last few years there was a “huge culture” of people drinking in their own homes, she said. The difficulty with this is they have no measure of the amount of alcohol they are drinking, she added.
She believed there was a need to educate people at a younger age. Referring to figures that 12 per cent of 11 to 17-year-olds smoke she said 11-year-olds are in primary school. “There is something seriously wrong if children are smoking at primary school level.”
Meanwhile the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children Ireland Trends report 1998 to 2010 revealed that alcohol continues to be a problem among the young. It outlined that 28 per cent of 10 to 17-year-olds reported that they had been drunk compared to 29 per cent in 1998. Eight per cent of those surveyed reported that they had used cannabis compared to 10 per cent in 1998.
In 2010 12 per cent of Irish children said they were smoking compared to 21 per cent in 1998. In terms of positive behaviour, seat-belt wearing rates have doubled (82 per cent ) among children since 1998 and 33 per cent reported that their health was excellent compared to 28 per cent in 1998. High rates of life satisfaction (76 per cent ) and reported happiness (91 per cent ) continue.
Commenting on the NUI Galway study the Minister for Health James Reilly said he was encouraged that the number of children who have smoked tobacco has decreased, similar to the trend in alcohol consumption and use of cannabis.
The principal investigator, Dr Saoirse Nic Gabhainn of NUI Galway, stated the report was the culmination of many years of work.
“It brings some good news about the health behaviours of children in Ireland over the years with a decrease in smoking and in alcohol use, for example. Yet still more needs to be done to improve their health, in particular around physical activity. Importantly, the proportion of children reporting high life satisfaction and being happy, fundamental aspects of childhood, has increased over the years, as have health and safety behaviours such as wearing a seatbelt and brushing teeth.”