The Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH) has today published a report which shows that 15.8% of three-year-olds in Ireland – about 11,000 children – have at least one serious longstanding health condition This is defined in the GUI study as a condition that ”has troubled (the) child over a period of time or that is likely to affect (the) child over a period of time” . The report, Longstanding Health Conditions Among Three Year Old Children in the Republic of Ireland in 2011 was launched today at a seminar in Dublin’s Wood Quay Venue, by the Minister for Health, Dr Leo Varadkar TD and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr James Reilly TD.
The Minister for Health, Dr Leo Varadkar TD, said that IPH’s study: “I want to commend the Institute of Public Health for its work in this area. This is an excellent example of collaborative work which is funded jointly by my own Department, the Institute and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
“Helping parents and health professionals to be more familiar with the characteristics that place children at higher risk of longstanding conditions will improve the chances of prevention or early detection and intervention. Many of these characteristics can be changed and they offer a focus for policy and service interventions to reduce risk factors and improve the lives of children and their families,” Minister Varadkar concluded.
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr James Reilly TD, said that: Research findings in relation to low birth weight and maternal smoking during pregnancy emphasise that child health promotion begins even before birth. Supporting parents and families is recognised as a key aspect of promoting and maintaining the health of children. This study identifies groups of parents and families (such as primary carers with a longstanding condition, one-parent families, and lower socio-economic households) that may have a greater need for support in caring for children with longstanding health conditions” Minister Reilly concluded.
IPH Director of Research, Prof Kevin Balanda, explained that the report is based on a systematic analysis of data from Wave Two of the Infant Cohort (three-year-old children) of the Growing Up in Ireland National Longitudinal Study of Children (GUI); a study funded by both departments.
“We identified five common serious conditions that were reported by carers including a ‘longstanding illness, condition or disability’, diagnosed asthma or asthma symptoms, diagnosed eczema / skin allergy, sight problems that required correction and hearing problems that required correction”.
Prof Balanda explained that the five conditions analysed can trouble a child over a period of time stating that: “children with these conditions can have poorer quality of life, poorer social and emotional development, and poorer educational achievement. Knowing the characteristics of children with these conditions helps us develop policies and plan services for children and their families”.
He noted that the health inequalities seen among three-year-olds reflect those found among adults that have been reported in earlier IPH reports.
IPH Research Analyst Mr Steve Barron set out some of the more detailed findings:
- 9.5% (about 6,600) have diagnosed asthma or asthma symptoms
- 4.0% (about 2,800) have diagnosed eczema/skin allergy
- 5.9% (about 4,100) have ever had a sight problem that required correction
- 3.9% (about 2,700) have ever had a hearing problem that required correction
Steve Barron explained that the burden of these health conditions is unequally distributed across the three-year-old population.
“We also looked at the data in more detail to see which children are more likely to have a ‘longstanding illness, condition or disability’. We found that boys are 50% more likely than girls to have such conditions and children in the lowest socio-economic households are 50% more likely than those in other households to have such a condition. In addition, children whose primary carer is ill are over 100% more likely than those with well primary carers to have such a condition.”
Steve Barron said that IPH’s report shows that a child’s birth circumstances are an important factor in whether or not they have sight problems by age three:
- Children born with low birth weight are 70% more likely than other children to have sight problems
- Children whose mother smoked during pregnancy are 50% more likely than other children