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
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.
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