Dr Saoirse Nic Gabhainn, Health Promotion Research Unit, School of Health Sciences, NUI Galway.
Mar 16 2016 Posted: 09:12 GMT

• Irish children report a lack of family and peer support
• Cyberbullying increasing with age in Ireland
• Drinking behaviours and tobacco use improving among Ireland’s young people

A new pan-European World Health Organisation (WHO) survey of schoolchildren reveals that the proportion of 15-year-olds who first smoked at the age of 13 has fallen significantly since 2010. The main findings of the ‘International Health Behaviour in School-aged Children’ (HBSC) 2014 study was launched today in Brussels, with The Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI Galway carrying out the Irish survey.

The WHO report entitled Growing up unequal: gender and socioeconomic differences in young people’s health and well-beingcovers 42 countries and regions across Europe and North America who participated in the study, collaborating with the WHO Regional Office for Europe. Findings in the report are based on almost 220,000 school students. Cross national comparisons are made for young people aged 11, 13 and 15 years.

The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey, which is updated every four years, reveals that the proportion of 15-year-old Europeans who reported having a first cigarette at the age of 13 or younger fell from 24% to 17% between 2009/2010 when the last survey was conducted and 2013/2014. The reduction reported among girls (22% to 13%) was larger than that among boys (26% to 22%), and the data shows no consistent association with family affluence, suggesting that smoking behaviour is only partially determined by socioeconomic factors.

This positive news on smoking is tempered by other aspects of the report, which goes on to warn that while 80% of the schoolchildren report generally high rates of life satisfaction, differences between genders and socioeconomic status are adversely affecting many young people’s health, well-being and lifestyle choices at a critical stage in their development.

The Irish Study

The Irish survey was carried out by the Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI Galway and it was the fifth round of data collection in Ireland. The overall study aims to gain new insight into, and increase our understanding of young people’s health and wellbeing, health behaviours and their social context.

As well as serving as a monitoring and a knowledge-generating function, one of the key objectives of HBSC has been to inform policy and practice, with the Irish section of the study being funded by the Department of Health. The latest HBSC report, which presents data from the 2013/2014 surveys, has a special focus on the effects of gender and socioeconomic differences on the way that young people grow and develop.

The cross-national survey covers diverse aspects of adolescent health and social behaviour, including self-assessment of mental health; obesity and body image; dietary habits; engagement in physical activity; support from families and peers; tobacco, alcohol and cannabis use; and bullying.

Dr Saoirse Nic Gabhainn from the Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI Galway, and the Principal Investigator of the Irish HBSC study, commented on the Irish findings within the report: “This study provides valuable insight into the health and wellbeing of children in Ireland. It also provides us with the opportunity to compare the health and health behaviours of Irish children with children from other countries. We have seen improvements in some health enhancing behaviours such as daily fruit consumption and reductions in risk taking behaviours such as alcohol consumption and tobacco use over time. However, there are also some areas of concern. For example, compared to other countries, Irish children report lower levels of feeling high family and peer support when compared to other countries. Cyberbullying increases with age in Ireland, more so than in other countries. Also of concern was the large gender difference between the proportion of girls and boys meeting physical activity recommendations.”

Key Irish findings when compared to other participating countries:

On health and health behaviours:

  • Life satisfaction: Irish 15-year olds ranked within the bottom 10 countries for the proportion of children reporting high life satisfaction.
  • Daily fruit consumption: Irish children ranked within the top 12 countries for the proportion of children reporting daily fruit consumption.
  • Watch Television (2+ hours on weekdays): Irish children ranked within the bottom 10 countries for the proportion of children reporting two or more hours of TV viewing on weekdays.
  • Meeting physical activity recommendations of at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) daily: When compared to other countries, Ireland has large gender differences for the proportion of boys and girls meeting physical activity recommendations. A larger proportion of boys report meeting the recommendations than girls.

Risk- taking behaviour:

  • Initiation of risk behaviours: In Ireland, there is a socio economic gradient in the proportion of children reporting initiation of cannabis use and first drunkenness. This pattern was not found for 15-year olds who report smoking at the age of 13 or younger.
  • Drinking behaviours and tobacco use are improving in Ireland and when compared to other countries.

Social interaction with family and peers:

  • Perceived family support: Of the participating countries, Ireland ranked within the bottom four countries for the proportion of children reporting high family support.
  • Perceived peer support: Of the participating countries, Irish 13 and 15 year olds ranked within the bottom one-third of countries for the proportion reporting high peer support.
  • Daily electronic media contact with friends: Ireland ranked within the top 10 countries for the proportion of children who report daily electronic media contact with friends.
  • Bullied others at school at least twice in the past couple of months: Ireland ranked within the bottom 10 countries for the proportion of children who report bullying others at school.
  • Cyberbullying: have been cyberbullied by messages at least two or three times a month: Compared to other countries, there is a strong age effect in Ireland, with a higher proportion of older children reporting having been cyberbullied than younger children.

Data collected for the study are based on surveys completed by thousands of adolescents, thereby ensuring that their voices and concerns can be taken fully into account when the WHO frames its European strategies, policies and actions for improving child and adolescent health and well-being. The study feeds into a growing body of evidence calling for more effective and targeted interventions by governments and policy-makers to tackle the effects of social, health and gender inequalities among young people in Europe.

To access a full copy of Growing up unequal: gender and socioeconomic differences in young people’s health and well-being, visit: http://www.euro.who.int/en/hbsc-report-2016 

ENDS

 

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