Today, (Wednesday, 14th October 2020) the HSE published the latest Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) survey. This is the fifth round of surveillance that has been conducted in Ireland as part of the WHO-EU Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative since 2008.

Over 5,710 children from across 1st – 6th class in 135 sentinel primary schools took part in the latest COSI survey and the latest survey findings show:

  • 1 in 5 primary school children in Ireland have overweight or obesity
  • Overweight and obesity is more prevalent in girls, particularly in later primary school years (4th- 6th class)
  • Over 1 in 3 primary school children between 4th- 6th class attending designated disadvantaged schools have over overweight and obese
  • Less than 1 in 10 primary school children are classified as underweight
  • 7 out of 10 primary school children have a healthy weight.

Welcoming the publication of the research report, Minister Frank Feighan, Minister of State for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy said; ‘The downward trend evident in the research for children in early primary school years is very welcome and comes as we are mid-way through the implementation of Healthy Weight for Ireland: Obesity Policy and Action Plan. This plan set out an ambitious approach to addressing the impact of the obesogenic environment on health and wellbeing across the population. A number of key cross-sectoral initiatives, focused on protecting the health of children have been introduced since 2016, including the Sugar-Sweetened Drinks Tax, Nutrition standards for school meals, Healthy Food for Life Guidelines, and a new Wellbeing Framework for schools – early years, primary and post-primary.”

Professor Cecily Kelleher, UCD College Principal, College of Agriculture and Health, University College Dublin, who leads the team of researchers working on the Irish arm of COSI at the National Nutrition Surveillance Centre said;

This is the fifth round of surveillance we’ve conducted in Ireland as part of the WHO-EU Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative. The health of our children, largely predicts the health of our future adult population. We know that childhood obesity is largely preventable through effective policies that can intervene early to create environments and behaviours that support healthy growth and development for all children. Robust population surveillance efforts like COSI are a valuable means of accessing our progress and the impact of these interventions over time.

“We’re very grateful for the support of the school communities – teachers, parents and children – who through their participation have allowed us to develop a rich understanding of childhood weight over time.

Commenting as the research report was launched, Sarah O’Brien, National Lead, HSE Healthy Eating Active Living Programme said;

It is important to understand that obesity is not about a person’s size or shape. Healthy weight for all children is important because we know that the consequences of childhood overweight and obesity can be lifelong, affecting quality of life and health both in childhood and adulthood. While the downward trend evident for children in early primary school years is very positive, the difference in prevalence evident for girls and those children attending designated disadvantaged schools is of concern. The results of the school survey conducted as part of the research, illustrates that the environment in Irish schools is largely positive to supporting healthy eating and physical activity. There is a clear need to ensure that policies and actions to support children and families address the wider obesogenic environment our children live in.*

The COSI survey and associated information is available at the HSE website here.

Notes:

*- access to affordable healthy food and physical activity opportunities, at home and in our communities.

– social norms and values influenced by the marketing and promotion of unhealthy foods

HSE Health and Wellbeing, Healthy Eating Active Living Programme (HEAL)

In 2008 the World Health Organisation initiated the Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative to provide an ongoing and systematic process for the collection, analysis, interpretation and dissemination of descriptive information for monitoring obesity in the WHO European Region and for use in programme planning and evaluation. Ireland was one of 13 countries who participate in the initiative.

The Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive commissioned the National Nutrition Surveillance Centre, UCD School of Public Health and Population Science to carry out this work for Ireland in 2008.  Subsequent rounds in 2010, 2012, 2015, and 2018 have been commissioned by the Health Service Executive.

The core objectives of the Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative in Ireland are to measure in primary school children aged exactly 7, 9 and 11 years of age:

  • Weight, height, body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference; and
  • Calculate the prevalence of underweight, normal weight, overweight and obesity.

 Professor Cecily Kelleher is the principal of the College of Health and Agricultural Sciences and also a faculty member of the School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science and Professor of Public Health Medicine and Epidemiology. Professor Kelleher’s’ main research areas are understanding how cardiovascular diseases and obesity patterns vary over time, between countries and how those patterns are affected by the life course and genetic influences.  She has led the Irish COSI research team since its inception.

Dr Lachlan Mitchell is the lead author of the report ‘The Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative (COSI) in the Republic of Ireland – Findings from 2018 and 2019’.  He is a dietitian and exercise scientist who is the current manager of the National Nutrition Surveillance Centre at UCD. The broad focus of his research is in nutrition and exercise, and covers a range of topics including childhood obesity, sports performance, and nutrition knowledge.

Sarah O’Brien is National Lead for the HSE Healthy Eating and Active Living Programme.  Sarah is responsible for ensuring that key national policies, Healthy Weight for Ireland and Get Ireland Active are implemented across the health services and funded agencies.  Her work in HSE includes policy, programme and campaign development and project management.  Sarah holds a BSc (Hons) Nursing Studies from the University of Salford in the UK and an MSc in Leadership and Management Development from the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland.


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