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Prevalence of overweight and obesity on the island of Ireland: results from the North South Survey of Children's Height, Weight and Body Mass Index, 2002

Helen Whelton1, Janas Harrington2*, Evelyn Crowley1, Virginia Kelleher1, Michael Cronin3 and Ivan J Perry2

Author Affiliations

1 WHO Collaborating Centre for Oral Health Services Research, University College Cork, Ireland

2 Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College Cork, Ireland

3 Department of Statistics, University College Cork, Ireland

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BMC Public Health 2007, 7:187  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-187

Published: 31 July 2007



Childhood obesity is emerging as a major public health problem in developed and developing countries worldwide. The aim of this survey was to establish baseline data on the prevalence and correlates of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents in the Republic of Ireland (RoI) and Northern Ireland (NI).


The heights and weights of 19,617 school-going children and adolescents aged between 4 and 16 years in NI and RoI were measured using standardised and calibrated scales and measures. The participants were a representative cross-sectional sample of children randomly selected on the basis of age, gender and geographical location of the school attended. Overweight and obesity were classified according to standard IOTF criteria.


Males were taller than females, children in RoI were taller than those in NI and the more affluent were taller than the less well off. The overall prevalence of overweight and obesity was higher among females than males in both jurisdictions. Overall, almost one in four boys (23% RoI and NI) and over one in four girls (28% RoI, 25% NI) were either overweight or obese. In RoI, the highest prevalence of overweight was among 13 year old girls (32%) and obesity among 7 year old girls (11%). In NI the highest prevalence of overweight and obesity were found among 11 and 8 year old girls respectively (33% and 13%).


These figures confirm the emergence of the obesity epidemic among children in Ireland, a wealthy country with the European Union. The results serve to underpin the urgency of implementing broad intersectoral measures to reduce calorie intake and increase levels of physical activity, particularly among children.