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Both jurisdictions of Ireland have high rates of chronic degenerative diseases, particularly of the cardiovascular system, and Irish migrants have worse health profiles, often lasting at least two generations. The influence of socio-demographic variation over the life course, and what role diet plays, has not been well researched in epidemiological terms. There is a long history of an unusual Irish diet. Estimated dietary fat intake (% total energy intake) in 1863 was only 9, but had reached 30 in 1948 and 34 in 1999. Conversely, carbohydrate intake has fallen steadily over 150 years. From 1948 onwards household budget survey data illustrate patterns of increasing urbanisation and socio-economic gradients in food availability. The National Survey of Lifestyles, Attitudes and Nutrition, (n 6539, 622 % response rate) provides clear evidence of inverse social-class gradients in intake of fruit and vegetables and dairy products and in reported patterns of healthy eating. Median carbohydrate and vitamin C levels are higher among social classes 1-2 and mean saturated fat intake is lower. International comparisons indicate a continuing, if narrowing, north-south gradient across Europe. Data from the Boston-Ireland study suggest a crossover in both dietary intake patterns and risk of heart disease in Ireland and the USA in the 1970s. Contemporary comparative data of middle-aged Irish and American women demonstrate patterns of diet intake and inactivity consistent with the modern epidemic of obesity and non-insulin-dependent diabetes. Thus, dietary variations within and between countries and over time are consistent with chronic disease patterns in contemporary Ireland.
The aim of this study was to identify differences in food habits and lifestyle behaviours by dieting status among young people in Ireland.
Cross-sectional survey. Participants responded to a self-completion questionnaire designed by researchers on the World Health Organization's collaborative study – Health Behaviour in School Aged Children. Pupils were selected by school and classroom and the sample was stratified to be representative of the geographical distribution of school students in Ireland.
Data were collected by teachers from school pupils in their classrooms.
Data were collected from 187 schools which included 8497 pupils (51% girls) aged 9–17 years.
While a minority of pupils (12% of girls, 4% of boys) reported that they were on a diet to lose weight, a substantial proportion (28% of girls, 18% of boys) said that they should be on a diet. Dieters reported consuming unhealthy foods less frequently than non-dieters, but did not report an increased consumption of fruit and vegetables. Rather, some categories of dieters reported higher levels of coffee and tobacco use and lower exercise levels than non-dieters.
The results could indicate substitution of unhealthy foods by other unhealthy behaviours as opposed to an increased consumption of healthier foodstuffs, and suggest that both smoking and exercise need to be addressed alongside nutrition in youth health promotion.
To assess the impact and suitability of a pilot dietary educational programme for primary school pupils. The Nutrition Education at Primary School (NEAPS) programme aimed to build awareness of the benefits of healthy eating, induce positive behaviour change and increase the children's knowledge.
A comparative quasi-experimental study with follow-up after 3 months.
Eight primary schools in the Eastern and North Western Health Boards and three control schools in the same board regions.
Data were used from 821 Irish school children aged 8–10 years old.
The education programme comprised 20 sessions over 10 weeks including circular worksheets, homework assignments and an aerobic exercise regime. At baseline and after 3 months pupils completed food diaries and a validated food pairing questionnaire on food behaviour, knowledge and preferences.
Significant differences were found in the intervention children's behaviour and preference levels after the NEAPS programme (P < 0.01 in both sections). Knowledge levels were very high at baseline and though some individual items improved, average change overall was not significant. Rural children appeared to benefit more in behaviour and preferences from the programme (P < 0.01). The NEAPS programme appeared to be less effective in pupils in disadvantaged areas (P < 0.01 for each of the sections: behaviour, preference and knowledge). One hundred and eighty-seven children completed food diaries. The intervention children's consumption of fruit and vegetables increased, and they consumed less salty snacks after the programme. Rural children were confirmed to have healthier diets at baseline.
Following the NEAPS pilot programme positive changes were seen in the school children's eating behaviour and preferences for healthier foodstuffs. This suggests successful development of a culturally sensitive nutrition education programme for school children aged 8–10 years.
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