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Inequalities in health among children

Resource type: News

The Irish Times |

by DR MUIRIS HOUSTON A MAJOR survey of 10-17 year olds in the Republic has found evidence of health inequalities among school children. The Inequalities in Health among School-Aged Children in Ireland report, published this morning, has been prepared from data gathered for the 2006 health behaviours in school-aged children (HBSC) study. It is based on a nationally representative sample of 10,334 children from 215 schools. The research shows that children with chronic illness and immigrant children are more likely than their peers to have been bullied. Children from the Travelling community are more likely to abuse alcohol, while 10-17 year olds attending schools receiving dedicated equality support were found to have the poorest health of all groups studied. Carried out by Dr Saoirse Nic Gabhainn, Dr Michel Molcho and Dr Colette Kelly of the Health Promotion Research Centre at the National University of Ireland, Galway, sub-groups of Traveller children, those with disability and chronic illness, immigrants and children attending Delivering Equality of Opportunity Schools (DEIS) were compared with a wider group of children living in Ireland. In the group of students with a disability or a chronic illness, the greatest difference in self-reported health status was among those who had a disability that affected their activity levels. These students were more likely to report they had been bullied in school or injured in the previous 12 months. In general, children in this group did not have breakfast on weekdays, consumed soft drinks more frequently and were more likely to smoke. Almost half the immigrant children studied had come from the UK, with the remaining 50 per cent classified as non-UK immigrants. Non-UK immigrant students were less likely to report that students in their class accepted them as they are. This group was less likely to report drinking alcohol or having been drunk. Overall, immigrant schoolchildren were less likely to report feeling very happy with their lives at present. Fruit and vegetable consumption was similar among Traveller students and the wider group. Traveller children were less likely to report positive school perceptions, while Traveller girls were more likely to have been bullied in school. Students receiving special support from the Department of Education experienced the poorest health of all the groups studied. “Fewer students in DEIS schools reported frequent consumption of fruit and vegetables and more students in DEIS schools reported daily consumption of sweets and soft drinks and skipping breakfast on weekdays” the report states. Commenting on the research, which was funded by the Department of Health, Dr Nic Gabhainn said: “this is a landmark report which challenges our assumptions in relation to inequality and diversity in Ireland. We knew there were inequalities in health among adults but it was thought that children were more equal – this is simply not the case. Some groups of children are having a more difficult time than others, and this is an issue for all of us”. Asked about the experiences of children with chronic illness and disability, Dr Nic Gabhainn said it can be challenging for parents to get an ill child enrolled in school. “We need to look at issues affecting participation by these students in school and look at ways to support their parents and the schools they wish to attend”. And on a positive note, the senior lecturer at NUIG’s Department of Health Promotion observed that children in all groups reported having a good relationship with their parents. “This shows there are a high number of loving families out there with good communication and good family support”, she said.

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