Findings of Health Behaviour in School-aged Children in Ireland from 1998-2018

NUI Galway report highlights trends in children’s health behaviours over 20 years

HBSC study reveals an overall decrease across all substance use measures; an increase in young people reporting pressure from schoolwork; and more children report feeling low

  • 3% of Irish children aged 10-17 said they were smoking in 2018, compared to 22.6% in 1998
  • In 2018 19% reported they had ever been drunk, compared to 33% in 1998
  • 5% reported in 2018 they had used cannabis in the last year, compared to 12.3% in 1998
  • 3% reported feeling pressured by school work, compared to 32.9% in 1998
  • 3% reported feeling low about every week or more frequently, compared to 23% in 1998

Monday 8 March 2021:  Minister of State with responsibility for Public Health, Wellbeing and National Drugs Strategy Frank Feighan T.D. today launched the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children Trends Report 1998-2018 (HBSC).

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.

Compared to the findings from 1998, the study found fewer children using substances, more than half of children exercise regularly, more children are feeling pressured by school work and more children report feeling low.

The HBSC is a cross-sectional study conducted in collaboration with the World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe. It runs every four years. In 2018, 45 countries and regions participated, collecting data on health behaviours, health outcomes and the social contexts of children’s lives.

The study compared findings of health behaviour in school-aged children from 1998 to 2018.

Health risk behaviours – An overall decrease across all substance use measures.

:: Fewer children report currently smoking – 5.3% in 2018, compared to 22.6% in 1998.

:: Fewer children report that they have ever been drunk – 19% in 2018 compared to 33% in 1998.

:: Fewer children report cannabis use in the last year – 8.5% in 2018, compared to 12.3% in 1998.

Positive health behaviours – An overall improvement among young people

:: More children brushing teeth more than once a day – 70.1% in 2018, compared to 57.6% in 1998.

:: More children always wearing a seatbelt in car journeys – 81.4% in 2018, compared to 41% in 1998.

:: The proportion of young people doing vigorous exercise four or more times a week has remained stable – 52.1% in 2018, compared to 52.6% in 1998.

Launching the report, Minister Frank Feighan said: “I welcome the publication of this latest report from the Health Behaviour in School Aged Children Study. 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. The information contained in this study will be of great importance in terms of future planning and policy direction regarding children’s health.

Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman T.D. 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. In February, my Department launched the Supporting Children Campaign which aims to outline the supports available for children and families during the pandemic. We have also increased funding for youth services in 2021, in recognition of the positive impact youth work can have on young people’s lives.

“Thanks to the HBSC research team in NUI Galway and the contributions from young people, we now have a valuable piece of research that will help to inform future healthy living initiatives aimed at improving the lives of children and young people in Ireland.”

Commenting on the findings, Co-Principal Investigator Dr Colette Kelly from the Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI Galway, said: “This report is the culmination of many years of work, and brings together some good news about the health behaviours of Irish children with a sustained decrease in substance use for example.

“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. The report provides a breakdown of age, gender and social class patterns which provide more in-depth information on each of the indicators.”

To read the full report, visit –

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