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Significant drop in number of children drinking and smoking in the last two decades

More children reported feeling low and being on a diet compared with 1998.

Image: PA

Updated Mar 8th 2021, 2:29 PM

THERE HAS BEEN a significant drop in the number of children drinking and smoking in the last 20 years, research has shown.

There has also been a decline in the number of young people taking cannabis across genders, ages and social classes.

The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children Trends Report (HBSC) found that, between 2002 and 2018, there was a statistically significant decrease in the proportion of young people aged 15 to 17 who had ever smoked who reported having had their first cigarette at the age of 13 or younger.

The research shows this figure dropped from 61% in 2002 to 32.1% in 2018.

The number of children currently smoking also dropped by 17% in 20 years.

The study compared findings of health behaviour in children aged 10 to 17 from 1998 to 2018. It found that 5.3% were smoking in 2018, compared with 22.6% in 1998.

The report also found that fewer children had reported being drunk since 1998.

Research showed that 19% of children in 2018 said they had been drunk, compared with 33% in 1998.

embedded225442579 The report also found that that fewer children had reported being drunk since 1998. Source: Philip Toscano/PA

There was also a decrease in bullying, with 25.1% in 1998 saying they had bullied others, compared with 13.7% in 2018.

The number of young people who said they were on a diet or doing something else to lose weight rose to 14.4% in 2018 from 11.9% in 2002.

There was a particular increase in older boys reporting being on a diet.

Between 1998 and 2018 there was a statistically significant rise in the proportion of children who said they brushed their teeth more than once a day, from 57.6% in 1998 to 70.1% in 2018.

The proportion of children who reported participating in vigorous exercise four or more times a week remained stable over the 20 years, at 52.6% in 1998 and 52.1% in 2018.

Between 2010 and 2018 there was a statistically significant fall in the proportion of young people aged 15 to 17 who reported having had sex – 22.0% in 2018 compared with 25.5% in 2010 – with the decrease is more evident in girls.

Between 1998 and 2018 there was a statistically significant increase in the proportion of children who reported feeling low, rising from 23% in 1998 to 34.3% in 2018.

This was particularly evident in lower-class groups.

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There was also a statistically significant rise in the proportion of children who reported finding it easy to talk to their father about things that really bother them, jumping from 47.4% in 1998 to 71.5% in 2018.

The report revealed that more boys find it easier to speak about issues to their mother and more girls find it easier to speak to their father today than 20 years ago.

The report was led by senior researcher Aoife Gavin in collaboration with the HBSC research team at the Health Promotion Research Centre in NUI Galway.

Junior Health Minister Frank Feighan said: “This international project has provided us with essential data which has helped to shape and inform policy relating to the health and wellbeing of our children and young people.

“This new trends report gives us a wonderful opportunity to take stock, both of the many very significant improvements to our children’s health, and of those areas where we have not, perhaps, made as much progress as we would have liked.”

Children’s Minister Roderic O’Gorman said: “Ireland is headed in the right direction when it comes to the health of young people, and it is clear that past government initiatives to support healthy choices are having a positive impact on reducing alcohol consumption and smoking, helping to keep our young people safe.

“The research also suggests that an increased emphasis is needed around supporting the positive mental health of young people, and, following the impact of Covid-19, this is an issue that may become more prevalent.”

Co-principal investigator Dr Colette Kelly, from the Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI Galway, said: “There is a continuing positive trend in children communicating with parents and reports of good places in the local area to spend free time.

“The report also highlights areas in need of improvement. In particular, more young people are reporting that they feel pressured by school work and there is an increase in the proportion of children who report feeling low.”

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