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News / June 23, 2008

Irish children

by Guy Hiscott

A wide-ranging report that compares the habits of Irish children to the rest of the world has revealed that gender and wealth have a significant effect on children’s oral health and general behaviour.

The World Health Organization (WHO) report revealed that girls are more likely than boys to brush their teeth at least daily. They are also more likely to eat fruit every day and to diet.

The report – entitled ‘Health Inequalities in Young People’s Health – How do Ireland’s Children Compare Internationally?’ – investigated a range of activities that affect children’s health. The principal investigator for Ireland was Dr Saoirse Nic Gabhainn from NUI Galway’s Health Promotion Research Centre.

It identified other important gender differences, particularly in the older age groups. At age 15, boys are more likely than girls to eat breakfast (70% vs. 57%), undertake physical activity (27% vs. 13%), to have used cannabis recently (11% vs. 7%) and to have been fighting (19% vs. 7%). Boys are also more likely to spend time with friends in the evening, to have been injured and to get on well with their fathers.

The report also indicates that those from less affluent families are more likely to smoke cigarettes, spend more time out at night with friends and watch more than the recommended two hours of television per day.

Children from well-off families have ‘more positive eating patterns’. They are more likely to have breakfast. to eat fruit and are less inclined to consume soft drinks. Richer children also report better relationships with their fathers and friends and get on better in school, according to the international study.

The health and well-being of Irish children compares very favourably internationally.

Compared to the other 40 countries across Europe and North America, Irish children rank highly on many positive health indicators, including physical activity (top 10) and breakfast eating (top 10) and report relatively low levels of health complaints (bottom 10) and medically attended injuries (bottom 10).

Irish children are also in the top five for the number of close friends they have and for perceived school performance in all age groups.

Dr Nic Gabhainn said: ‘We have held on to our position near the top of the physical activity league and have improved on sweets and soft drink consumption as well as tooth brushing where we had performed poorly in previous cross-national surveys.’