Fewer Irish children are smoking and drinking, new study suggests

The study suggests fewer young people are drinking Credit: Yui Mok/PA

There has been an increase in the number of children reporting never having had an alcoholic drink or smoking, a new study shows.

Minister for Health Simon Harris TD and Minister for Health Promotion, Catherine Byrne TD will launch the Health Behaviours in School-aged Children (HBSC) 2018 Study on Thursday.

This is an international study and the Irish part, commissioned by Department of Health and carried out by the Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI Galway, shows trends in health behaviours in children, as well as highlighting some areas of concern.

The study shows 64% of children reporting that they have never had an alcoholic drink, an increase of 6% since 2014.

Of those children who reported ever having had alcohol, 54% received alcohol from a parent, guardian, sibling or reported taking alcohol from the family home, with a further 30% sourcing it from friends.

The study also shows that 11% of children aged 10 – 17 years old have tried smoking, a 5% drop from 16% in 2014, and 22% report trying e-cigarettes.

Mr Harris said: “The health and wellbeing of our children is a key indicator of the health of the nation, and I am pleased to see many positive trends. In particular, the good news around smoking and alcohol use by children which both continue to decline.

“However, the numbers of teenagers trying e-cigarettes and vaping products is a cause for concern and will be addressed by measures I will introduce in 2020, including new legislation to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to children under the age of 18.”

“Given the damaging effect that alcohol can have on the growing brain, the reduction in children trying alcohol and children reporting having been drunk is welcome. However, I am struck by the finding that by far the most common source of alcohol for children is within their family home. This is an issue that all of us, as parents and adults in the lives of young people, need to reflect on. We need to change our culture around alcohol in Ireland, if we are to reduce the corrosive effects alcohol has on so many young lives.”

The study also contains information on physical activity and the consumption of sugary sweets and drinks.

While 52% of children report exercising four or more times per week, 9% of 10 to 17-year-olds report being physically inactive.

Both figures are static since 2014 and are broadly in line with the findings of other studies.

Consumption of sweets and soft drinks is down significantly; 21% of children report eating sweets once or more per day, while 7% report consumption of soft drinks. These figures are down from 27% and 13% respectively in 2014.

Minister Catherine Byrne said the drop in the number of children eating sweets and drinking soft drinks is welcome.

“This shows that the good work being done by many groups, including schools, in promoting healthy eating habits is having an impact. I also welcome the small drop in numbers of children reporting they go to bed or school hungry, but this is a figure that we need to see at zero. The number of children taking part in sufficient levels of physical activity is another cause for concern and still far too low.”

There is a 4% drop in life satisfaction and happiness to 43% from 47% in 2014.

Girls are significantly less likely to report being happy than boys.

Ms Byrne describes the finding of a slight drop in overall feeling of happiness and life satisfaction among young people as “concerning”.

“I am struck by the fact that more bullying takes place in real life than online. This underscores for me the very important role that adults in schools and our communities play in promoting healthy and respectful environments for young people, and in supporting participation in activities that protect mental wellbeing such as sport, arts and culture.”

The HBSC study in Ireland is funded by the Department of Health.

The survey of 15,500 children from 255 primary and post-primary schools was carried out by the Health Promotion Research Centre, NUI Galway and led by Professor Saoirse Nic Gabhainn.