Report shows drop in number of children smoking

There has been a significant drop in the number of Irish children smoking, according to an official study.

The latest HBSC Ireland Trends Report 1998–2010 into child health behaviours shows the number reporting they smoked almost halved from 21.2% in 1998 to 11.9% in 2010.

There was smaller decrease in the numbers who stated they had never been drunk, which fell from 29.3% to 28.3%.

The report also showed a decrease in the percentage of young people who reported cannabis use in the last 12 months (10.3% when asked in 1998 to 8.3% in 2010).

There was also a significant decrease in the percentage of young people who reported they have bullied others, two more times, in the past couple of months, from 24% in 1998 to 16.4% in the 2010 survey.

Although the findings of the report are broadly positive from a health perspective, it did warn of fewer boys aged 15-17 consistently report seatbelt use and tooth brushing and fewer of those lower social class groups report consuming fruit daily or more.

It also warned that “particular attention” should be given to girls and those from lower social classes who are consistently more likely to report engagement in risky health behaviours.

“It is encouraging to note that the number of children who have smoked tobacco has decreased, similar to the trend in alcohol consumption and use of cannabis,” said minister for Health Dr James Reilly.

“This is a step in the right direction and I hope to see this continue for the good of all our children.

“The trends identified here tells us where policy needs to adjust and focus so as to assist Government in addressing the behavioural trends that are a source of concern, or indeed to prevail with existing policy where encouraging positive trends have been reported.

“Overall the survey provides us with essential lifestyle information which my Department will use in promoting healthy lifestyles in health and other sectors.

“This is what Healthy Ireland is about – taking important steps towards making Ireland a healthier nation. Appropriate health indicators on the health status of children in Ireland are what we require.”

Data relating to almost 40,000 children was collected and examined between 1998 and 2010.

Researchers said the percentage of young people living with both their mother and father fell from 91.4% to 73.7% during that period.

More than half said they talked to their friends on the phone, via text messages or on the internet every day, while four out of 10 feel pressured by schoolwork.

Healthwise, a fifth of children said they ate fruit more than once a day and half said they exercised four or more time per week, a fall from 54%

Of the 12% that smoked, almost half had started by the age of 13 or younger, compared to 61% in 1998.

About 13% were on a diet while a third said their health was excellent, 91% of children were happy and 76% reported high life satisfaction, all up on previous years.

Elsewhere seat-belt wearing rates have doubled to 82%.

Principal investigator Dr Saoirse Nic Gabhainn said: “This report is the culmination of many years of work, and brings some good news about the health behaviours of children in Ireland over the years, with a decrease in smoking and in alcohol use for example.

“Yet still more needs to be done to improve their health, in particular around physical activity.

“Importantly, the proportion of children reporting high life satisfaction and being happy, fundamental aspects of childhood, has increased over the years, as have health and safety behaviours such as wearing a seatbelt and brushing teeth.”

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