Children's Bad Habits, Vices Reduced, But What Replaced Them?

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A study on children ages 10 to 17 aimed to determine the habits affecting children's health. The findings are promising, showing a significant decrease in substance use-smoking, drinking, and drugs. There has also been a decline in child bullying.

However, boys, especially those in the lowest social class, may need help with a healthier diet and coping mechanisms towards pressure and depression.

HBSC Study Shows Improvements in Children's Health

Senior researcher Aoife Gavin collaborated with the HBSC research team to conduct the study on Irish Behavior in School-aged Children. The Health Behavior in School-aged Children Trends Report (HBSC) showed positive results in changing children's habits. It is a cross-sectional study in collaboration with the World Health Organization, Breaking News reported.

The report found fewer children smoking in the past two decades, declining from 22.6 to 5.3 percent, Irish Times reported. Fewer children have their first cigarette at 13 years old or younger, with at least half the percentage declining to smoke early compared to 20 years ago.

More and more are incorporating healthy habits into their day-to-day living. There is almost a 20 percent jump in the number of children brushing their teeth more than once a day. Nearly a 40 percent increase in children wearing a seat belt was also reported.

Cannabis use among children also dropped by almost 4 percent — nearly the same percentage decrease in young people who reported having sex. However, there is a decrease in the number of youth using a condom during sex.

ALSO READ: Should Sex Ed Start as Early as Kindergarten? Experts Say Yes

Diet Changes Affecting Children's Health

On the other hand, there is a slight increase in the percentage of school-aged children being on a diet or trying to lose weight. Older boys were most likely dieting or doing something to lose weight. In particular, boys in the lowest social class group are adopting less healthy dieting habits. The proportion of youth doing vigorous exercise at least 4 times a week remained consistent.

While weight dissatisfaction is a common problem among teenagers, it can be potentially dangerous. Weight dissatisfaction can lead to low self-esteem, unhealthy weight control behaviors, compromising on one's health, among others. Fad diets and skipping meals should be highly discouraged, and age-appropriate physical activity is encouraged, NCBI advised.

ALSO READ: Study Reveals That a Good Diet Has Allowed Children to Be a Head Taller than Others 

While reports of bullying in children have been cut nearly half, school-aged children reported feeling more pressure with school work — additionally, a sharp increase in the percentage of children feeling low at least once every week. "There is an increased need to support the positive mental health of the youth, especially with the impact of COVID-19," said Roderic O'Gorman, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration, and Youth.

ALSO READ: How to Respond When Your Child is Bullied

What Contributed to the Positive Changes in Children's Habits?

O'Gorman noted that the previous government initiatives made to support healthy choices of children's health show a positive impact in helping keep the youth safe. Dr. Colette Kelly from the Health Promotion Research Centre at NUI Galway also observed that "More children are now communicating with their parents."

Adding more good places in the local area for the youth to spend their free time in may have also contributed to the improvements in the habits of school-aged children.

Frank Feighan, Minister of State for Public Health, Wellbeing, and National Drugs Strategy, is grateful for the wealth of data "which help up shape future policy and planning towards the better health and wellbeing of our youth." Further, Feighan noted that the report is helpful in determining "areas where we are yet to make as much progress."

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