Longstanding health conditions

Half of 7 year-olds in Northern Ireland have a longstanding health condition

A new report estimates that over half of 7 year-olds (53.2%) in Northern Ireland have one or more longstanding health conditions. The report published by the Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPH) today found that asthma (22.9%) and eczema (26%) were the most common conditions reported by carers followed by sight (16.8%) and hearing (8.3%) problems. The report also estimated that boys are 1.7 times more likely than girls to experience asthma or asthma-like symptoms.

The findings are based on analysis of the fourth wave of the Northern Ireland Millennium Cohort Study which followed the health of 1,370 children and their families when children were aged 7 years-old.

Michael McBride, Chief Medical Officer in Northern Ireland welcomed the report: “This report provides a valuable insight into the prevalence of longstanding health conditions among 7 year-olds. These conditions can have a significant impact on children, their families and the health services required to manage them. Identifying risk factors can help us design effective early interventions and management strategies to help ensure better health outcomes for these children”.

Longstanding conditions “quite common” among seven year-olds in NI

IPH Director of Research Professor Kevin Balanda said: “The findings show longstanding conditions including asthma and eczema are quite common among 7 year-old children in Northern Ireland. We are increasingly aware of the lifelong benefits of a healthy start in life and these findings show it is important to address the underlying causes of these conditions to enable more children to have a healthy start.”

Key findings on prevalence included:

19.1% were reported as currently experiencing a longstanding illness or disability
26.1% were reported as ever having eczema
22.9% were reported as ever having asthma
16.8% were reported as ever having a sight problem
8.3% were reported as ever having a hearing problem

Inequalities and longstanding illness

The report found that the burden of these health conditions is unequally distributed with significant inequalities apparent across the 7 year-old population. Factors associated with these inequalities included socio-economic conditions, carer health, educational attainment of carers and differences in maternal health behaviours:

Lead author of the report, Lorraine Fahy, IPH said, “This research indicated that having a primary carer with a longstanding condition was linked to a higher risk of a child having a condition. Maternal smoking during pregnancy was also linked to higher prevalence of asthma. Children whose mother smoked during pregnancy were 1.8 times more likely to have asthma/asthma symptoms. Socio-economic factors also played a role as well as differences in educational attainment of the primary carer. The report also calls for more uniform measures of children’s health conditions to enable better comparisons across studies.”

The report can be accessed here

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