Childhood obesity: the extent of the problem among 6-year-old Irish national school children


David S. Evans, Health Service Executive West, Department of Public Health, Merlin Park Hospital, Galway, Ireland


Background  Childhood obesity is rapidly increasing worldwide. In Ireland, the number of overweight children has trebled over the last decade. The study aimed to provide an assessment of the prevalence of obesity of 6-year-old children in one region of Ireland.

Methods  Following training, School Public Health Nurses included the measurement of height and weight as part of the annual ‘senior infants’ school health check for 5453 6-year-old children in 189 schools between 2004 and 2007. Body mass index (BMI) was calculated using the International Obesity Taskforce cut-off points using lmsGrowth (a Microsoft Excel add-in), which uses a child's exact age. Kendall's Tau b was used to determine the reliability of measurements. Prevalence trends were tested using multinomial logistic regression. Pearson's chi-squared test was utilized to assess the statistical significance of differences in BMI by gender, school year, and to compare with similar other Irish studies.

Results  Out of the 5453 children measured, 3493 were aged 6 years old. A further 11 were excluded because of incomplete data. Data were analysed for 3482 6-year-old children. Overall, 27% of 6-year-olds were classified as either overweight or obese. A significantly greater proportion of girls are overweight or obese compared with boys (31% compared with 23%). Gender differences have remained relatively stable from 2004–2007. Overall, there have been no significant changes in the level of obesity from 2004–2007. In addition, when comparing with other Irish studies that collected data for 2001/2, there are no significant differences in obesity levels.

Conclusions  There is a clear need to urgently prioritize the effective management of obesity. Resourses should now be targeted towards ensuring government policies in Ireland and elsewhere are implemented.