How to safe­guard your child’s health

What de­ci­sions can we make about our chil­dren’s health now which will pro­tect them in the fu­ture and help them to thrive in adult­hood? re­ports Ex­ces­sive screen time has also been linked to the decline in chil­dren’s fun­da­men­tal move­ment skills

Irish Independent - Health & Living - - KIDS’ HEALTH SPECIAL -

THE idea of ‘fu­ture­proof­ing’ our chil­dren has gained ground in re­cent years. In a rapidly chang­ing world, par­ents want to equip their off­spring with skills that will help them thrive in the 21st cen­tury (and en­sure that a ro­bot doesn’t steal their job!).

But what about the health is­sues that can lead to prob­lems in later life? Our chil­dren are go­ing to lead longer lives — that much is clear — but what pre­cau­tions can we take now to en­sure that they lead fuller lives too?

This is­sue shines a spot­light on the key health chal­lenges fac­ing Ir­ish chil­dren, and the steps par­ents can take to tackle them. But first, let’s take a quick look at the state of the na­tion’s chil­dren…

Broadly speak­ing, Ir­ish chil­dren are in good health. The most re­cent ERSI Grow­ing Up in Ire­land sur­vey, which looks at is­sues fac­ing chil­dren aged seven and eight, found that around

80pc of chil­dren were de­scribed by par­ents as be­ing ‘very healthy’, with a fur­ther 19pc de­scribed as ‘healthy’, but with a few mi­nor prob­lems.

Th­ese statis­tics sug­gest a bright fu­ture for Ir­ish chil­dren, but is­sues such as obe­sity, anx­i­ety and ex­ces­sive screen time con­tinue to pose se­ri­ous health chal­lenges.

Head of

Ad­vo­cacy for the Ir­ish Heart Foun­da­tion, Chris Macey, re­cently told the Oireach­tas Com­mit­tee on Chil­dren and Youth Af­fairs that 85,000 Ir­ish chil­dren will die pre­ma­turely due to be­ing over­weight and obese.

“Chil­dren as young as eight are pre­sent­ing with high blood pres­sure and young peo­ple are show­ing signs of heart dis­ease that used to only be seen in mid­dle age,” he said, be­fore call­ing for vend­ing ma­chines to be banned in schools in a bid to tackle the is­sue.

Ad­di­tional re­search from the Child­hood Obe­sity Sur­veil­lance Ini­tia­tive (COSI) shows that while the lev­els of ex­cess weight in chil­dren ap­pears to be sta­bil­is­ing over time, at least one in five Ir­ish chil­dren is over­weight or obese, with girls and chil­dren from low-in­come fam­i­lies most at risk.

This was borne out in the Grow­ing Up in Ire­land sur­vey, which showed that 27pc of chil­dren from low­est in­come fam­i­lies were over­weight or obese, com­pared with 16pc of chil­dren from the high­est in­come fam­i­lies.

The largely seden­tary be­hav­iour of screen time is an­other risk fac­tor for obe­sity, with the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WHO) warn­ing that the vast ma­jor­ity of young peo­ple aren’t get­ting the rec­om­mended amount of daily ex­er­cise and are there­fore at a higher risk of sleep de­pri­va­tion, car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease and Type 2 di­a­betes.

Ir­ish chil­dren aged seven and eight have, on av­er­age, one to two hours of screen time on a week day and three hours or more at the week­end, ac­cord­ing to the Grow­ing Up in Ire­land sur­vey.

Mean­while, a sur­vey con­ducted by Laya Health­care, in line with their ‘Su­per Troop­ers’ health home­work pro­gramme, found that chil­dren un­der 12 years of age are spend­ing more than 23 hours a week in front of screens, com­pared to 11 hours a week out­doors. (While there are no na­tional guide­lines around chil­dren’s screen time, the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics has rec­om­men­da­tions.)

Ex­ces­sive screen time has also been linked to the decline in chil­dren’s fun­da­men­tal move­ment skills (FMS). Th­ese spe­cific move­ments (think throw­ing, catch­ing and run­ning) are con­sid­ered the build­ing blocks of chil­dren’s co­or­di­na­tion but re­cent re­search from the In­sight Cen­tre of Data An­a­lyt­ics in Dublin City Univer­sity shows that just 11pc of Ir­ish ado­les­cents

Dr Harry Barry

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