Technical ReportPDF Available

Healthy Lifestlyes - Have Your Say: A consultation with children and young people

Authors:
Copyright © Minister for Health and Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, 2016
www.health.gov.ie www.dcya.ie
Published by Government Publications
ISBN: 978-1-4064-2929-9
The views expressed in this report are those of the children
and young people who took part in the consultations and
not necessarily those of the Department of Health or
Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means,
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without
the prior permission in writing of the copyright holders.
For rights of translation or reproduction, applications should be made to the publishers.
Shirley Martin, Deirdre Horgan
and Margaret Scanlon
School of Applied Social Studies,
University College Cork
2016
 
 
 
 
1.1 Background 2
1.2 Consultation methods 2
1.3 Report outline 5
 
2.1 Key themes from consultation with children 8
2.2 Findings from individual sessions with children 10
  
3.1 Key themes from consultation with young people 16
3.2 Findings from individual sessions with young people 19
  
4.1 Children’s views on a healthy lifestyle 28
4.2 Young people’s views on a healthy lifestyle 33
4.3 Conclusion 42
 
  
5.1 Introduction 46
5.2 Children’s perceptions of health and healthy lifestyles 46
5.3 Children and young people’s perspectives on healthy eating 47
5.4 Children’s attitudes to exercise 51
5.5 Key messages from the literature 51
 
 
 

 

ii

DCYA Department of Children and Family Affairs
GUI Growing Up in Ireland
IPPN Irish Primary Principals’ Network
PE Physical education
SPHE Social, personal and health education
WHO World Health Organization

Sandra Barnes Department of Health
Dr Sean Denyer Department of Children and Youth Affairs
Dr John Devlin Department of Health
Martin Donohoe Foróige
Dr Nazih Eldin (Chair) Department of Health
Cathal Hand Health Service Executive
Mary Hegarty Health Service Executive
Dr Phil Jennings Health Service Executive
Adrienne Lynam Health Service Executive
Prof Sinead Murphy Temple Street Hospital/University College Dublin
Anne O’Donnell Department of Children and Youth Affairs
Dr Grace O’Mally Temple Street University Hospital
Margaret O’Neill Health Service Executive
Dr Conor Owens Health Service Executive
Prof Edna Roche National Children Hospital/Trinity College Dublin
Roisin Thurstan Temple Street Children’s University Hospital

iii
I am pleased to publish Healthy Lifestyles Have Your Say: A Consultation with Children and Young
People. This report outlines the views of children and young people on factors that help and hinder
them in having a healthy lifestyle.
The Department of Health approached my Department to seek support in getting the views of
children and young people to inform the forthcoming national policy, A Healthy Weight for Ireland.
This led to the Citizen Participation Unit of my Department conducting consultations with children
aged 8–12 years and young people aged 13–17 years, in partnership with the Department of Health.
The main themes that emerged from children aged 8–12 years include their recognition of the
importance of eating more healthy foods and less “junk food”, getting enough sleep and physical
exercise, playing outdoors and using “your imagination to make up active games”. The children
strongly identified smoking (including passive smoking) as a potential threat to health. Home was
identified as a source of love and support and a place where children receive guidance about healthy
lifestyles, particularly in relation to food choice and exercise. Schools were also seen as playing an
important role in providing information and guidance on healthy lifestyles.
Body image and media influences were identified as the main barriers to a healthy lifestyle among
teenagers aged 13–17 years. These issues included the pressure to conform to a particular body
image. Young people felt that the stigma attached to eating disorders made it difficult for them to
discuss this problem. Exam stress and heavy study workloads were identified as contributing to
sedentary and unhealthy lifestyles. Other school-related issues identified by young people include
their criticisms of the teaching of social, personal and health education (SPHE) and the lack of choice
in physical education, with the few alternatives to team sports it offers and its failure to cater for
different interests.
My Department is strongly committed to the participation of children and young people in decision
making, which is one of the general principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We
are proud to be the first country in Europe to have developed and published a National Strategy on
Children and Young People’s Participation in Decision-Making (2015–2020). However, considerable
cultural change is needed in this area. We often think of children only in their future capacity, as
adults, with less regard for the contribution they can make to our world during childhood. I strongly
believe that children and young people are not “beings in becoming”, but rather are “citizens of
today” with the right to be respected and heard during childhood, their teenage years and in their
transition to adulthood.
There is a growing body of evidence on the benefits of giving children and young people a voice
in decisions that affect their lives, including the fact that it leads to more effective polices and
services. Participation by children in decision making requires a cross-government response and the
publication of this report is evidence of the value of such collaboration.
Dr Katherine Zappone, TD
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs

1
2
 
This consultation process with children and young people formed part of the
national consultation process with stakeholders for the National Obesity Policy.
It was commissioned by the Department of Health and conducted by the Citizen
Participation Unit, Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA). This report
presents the findings from consultations with children from primary schools and
teenagers from Comhairle na nÓg (child and youth councils across local authorities in
Ireland). Two consultations were held – one with 34 young people aged 13 to 17 years,
from 11 of the 31 Comhairle na nÓg, and one with 48 primary school children between
the ages of eight and 12 years. The children and young people were from counties
Cavan, Clare, Cork, Donegal, Dublin, Dundalk, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Kerry,
Tipperary and Wicklow. In total, 82 children and young people were involved in this
consultation process.
A team from University College Cork (UCC) worked closely with the Citizen
Participation Unit of the DCYA, who conducted the consultations. The UCC
researcher’s role involved:
Hobserving the consultations and recording all consultation materials;
Hanalysing consultation data/results; and
Hpreparing this report, which documents and analyses the process and
findings of consultations with children and young people to inform the
National Obesity Strategy.
An oversight committee was established and chaired by the Department of Health
to advise on the consultations with children and young people. This committee was comprised of
paediatric, medical and other experts in the area of childhood obesity, as well as staff from the Citizen
Participation Unit, DCYA. This committee reviewed and gave feedback on the draft methodology. It also
considered ethical issues and how they might be addressed.
 
Pilot: A pilot consultation was conducted with a group of young people from Dublin City Comhairle na
nÓg in July 2015. The pilot used a draft version of the research tools; the lifelines, the placemats and
the guiding questions were all piloted. Through this process, the DCYA learned that the lifeline session
worked well but that the placemat session would benefit from adjustments, which were subsequently
made before the consultation process began. During the pilot discussion, the participating young
people strongly recommended naming the consultation “Healthy Lifestyles – Have Your Say”, and not
mentioning obesity in the title, which they felt would turn young people against participating in it. They
also felt that the topic of “healthy lifestyles” was more relevant to all young people.
Recruitment of children and young people for consultation: Children and young people were recruited
by the DCYA. The children (8–12 years) were recruited from primary schools through the Irish Primary
Principals’ Network (IPPN), while the young people (13–17 years) were recruited from the 31 Comhairle na
nÓg throughout the country. Considerable focus was placed on ensuring that good representation was
achieved among participants regarding socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity and geography.
INTRODUCTION
3
Contact: Following initial contact by phone, an information sheet, letter of invitation, parental consent
form and child/young person assent form were sent to all prospective participants three weeks before
the event, with a stamped envelope for return of consent and assent forms. The information leaflet
outlined, in child/young person friendly language, the aims of the study and the uses to which the data
would be put (see Appendix 1). A closing date for receipt of signed consent and assent forms was
included in the letter.
1.2.1 The consultations
The DCYA regularly conduct consultations with children and young people on a variety of aspects of
public policy. During these consultations, methods used were innovative, age-appropriate and strengths-
based. They included the use of warm-up exercises, lifelines, body mapping, floor mats, consensus
workshops and voting (see Appendix 2 for further detail).
The consultation with children began with some warm-up games and group formation exercises,
followed by participants completing a lifeline divided into two life stages (0–5 years and 6–12 years),
in which they reflected on their life experience to date regarding supports and obstacles to a healthy
lifestyle. The lifeline session was followed by a group discussion and sticky dot voting on two key topics
emerging from the exercise. The next session involved body mapping. A volunteer in each group had
the outline of their body drawn onto a large sheet of paper. Once the body shape was drawn, the children
were asked: “What are the things that make this child healthy?” The final session involved the use of a
floor placemat to elicit more detail on the topics identified in the body mapping exercise. The placemat
was divided into three sections: “at home”, “at school” and “in your area”. The children were
asked to think about what can make a child healthier in each of these contexts.
The consultation with young people involved three sessions. The first one began with
some warm-up games and fun group formation exercises. As with the consultation
with children, it involved a lifeline session to elicit views and/or experiences of factors
that contribute to and inhibit a healthy lifestyle, at different stages of childhood. In their
case the lifeline was divided into three stages (0–5 years, 6–12 years and 13–17 years) to
reflect their experience of all three age cohorts. Young people used sticky dot voting to
identify the most important topics. Facilitators used the top two issues identified within
each group in drawing up a list of five topics for more in-depth discussion at session 2.
Session 2 was a World Café workshop, which aimed to obtain more detail on the key topics
identified in session 1. Five topic zones were created, and a group was assigned to each topic.
A large square placemat was placed on each table and participants were asked to start working
from the inner circle; they were guided to give more details regarding an individual case and to
highlight “what’s working” (with a blue marker) and “what’s not working” (with a red marker). Then
they were asked to move to the outer circle to consider the question, “Why are these things
working/not working?” Finally, participants moved to the circles at the edge of the placemat to
consider another question: “What other ideas do you have that might help to improve healthy
lifestyles?” Each group was given the opportunity to engage with all five topics.
4
Session 3 involved sticky dot voting. Young people had an opportunity to cast two votes on “what is
working” and two votes on “what is not working” with regard to healthy living for children, as identified on
each placemat. After this, a ballot box vote was held. The facilitators presented the young people with
two lists, which had been identified through session 3: one of the top 10 issues that were working and
one of the top 10 issues that were not working. Ten green cards and ten red cards were placed on a wall
and each young person was given three voting cards to vote on what they thought were the three most
important issues. This consultation closed with a brief evaluation of the day.
1.2.2 Ethical considerations
The consultations were all subject to standard ethical guidance and procedures for consultation and
research with children. Ethical approval was obtained from the Social Research Ethics Committee
at University College Cork (UCC). The project methodology was guided by National Guidance for
Developing Ethical Research Projects Involving Children (DCYA, 2011). Informed assent forms were
obtained from the children and informed consent forms were obtained from their parents/guardians.
Potential participants were informed that they could inform the DCYA that they wished to withdraw at
any time before the final report was completed.
The key ethical issue for this study was ensuring that any sensitive issues relating to individual children and
family circumstances were anonymised. A strict policy of confidentiality and anonymity was adhered to
throughout the consultation process. Because this involved group-based data gathering, all participants
undertook to preserve the confidentiality of others. In the findings and discussion sections of this report,
quotes or other representation of data are only categorised by group (child or young person).
The facilitators were mindful of the sensitive nature of the topic itself. Throughout the consultations
they were alert to any negative reactions the children and young people may experience. None of
the materials given to children or young people included the term ‘obesity’; instead the focus of the
information and consultation process was on healthy lifestyles. This approach had been discussed in
detail by the project’s advisory committee and, as mentioned above, was also discussed with young
people during the pilot process.
INTRODUCTION
5
A strategy was in place for addressing any sensitive issues arising for children and young people during
the consultations. If any participant experienced difficulties or problems, a number of contact points
were available to help, including the DCYA and the advisory committee.
Child protection issues were fully addressed prior to, during and after the consultation process. The
assent forms completed by children and young people included the following tick-box statement:
‘I understand that all information gathered will be kept private unless I am in danger’. All facilitators
were briefed on the need to be aware of any child protection concerns that may present during the
discussions with children and young people. At the end of each consultation, once the children and
young people had left, all facilitators took part in a debriefing meeting, at which any child protection
issues could be raised. None arose.1
Finally, all the DCYA facilitators are very skilled and experienced in participatory work with children and
young people and are Garda vetted.
1.2.3 Summary of methodology
Two consultation processes were held: one with children (8–12 years) and one with young people
(13–17 years). A variety of methods were used, as deemed appropriate to their age and understanding.
The emphasis was on creating a fun, relaxed environment where participants could feel comfortable
discussing issues related to healthy lifestyles. The emphasis was firmly on healthy lifestyle as opposed
to obesity, following discussions with the advisory committee. Consultation
methods included: warm-up games, lifelines, body mapping, floor mats, consensus
workshops and voting. The consultation exercises were all subject to standard
ethical guidance and procedures for research with children.
 
Chapters 2 and 3 set out the findings of this consultation exercise with children and
young people. Chapter 2 begins with a summary of the main themes that emerged
from the consultation with children (8–12 years), followed by a more detailed
breakdown of findings from the individual sessions with children. Chapter 3
provides a summary of the main themes emerging from the consultation exercise
with young people (13–17 years), followed by a tabulated breakdown of findings
from those individual sessions. Chapter 4 presents a discussion of the findings
from the consultation exercises with both children and young people, highlighting
their views on a healthy lifestyle, including perceived barriers to and facilitators of
healthy living. Chapter 5 presents a review of the relevant research literature on
children’s perceptions around healthy living.
1 Any references made by young people during the consultations that related to the issue of abuse were general observations, and not
reports of personal experience.
“Children need
regular exercise and
should be exposed to
different types of sports
and activities.”



2
8
A total of 48 children, from third, fourth, fifth and sixth classes in primary schools around the country,
participated in this consultation process. Each session began with warm-up games and group formation
exercises. The children were divided into six groups. In these groups, they engaged in a range of
discussion-based activities, including a ballot box vote on the issues they felt were most important
to having a healthy lifestyle. These themes are presented below, in order of popularity (determined
through the voting exercise). (Tables 8 and 9 in Appendix 3 set out the raw data on the children’s views on
contributing factors to a healthy lifestyle.)
 
2.1.1 Food choice and healthy eating
A number of themes emerged related to both healthy and unhealthy eating; the topic of food was the
most commonly mentioned issue during the consultation with this group. The majority of comments
concerned the importance of consuming more of certain, healthier foods – particularly fruit, vegetables,
water and milk – and of eating less of other, less healthy foods, such as sweets, fizzy drinks, takeaways
and “junk” food. They also mentioned the significance of specific meals, like having a “good breakfast”,
and of choosing “healthy restaurants” when eating outside the home.
2.1.2 Sleep
The importance of getting sufficient sleep was a recurring theme. Participants identified specific sleep
habits and recommendations such as getting 10–12 hours of sleep per night, going to bed early and not
watching TV or playing video games before going to bed. By contrast, getting too much sleep, sleeping
during the day, or staying in bed late were all viewed negatively, possibly because they contribute to a
sedentary lifestyle.
2.1.3 Physical exercise and
activities
The importance of physical exercise, playing
outdoors and using “your imagination to
make up active games” was highlighted by
participants. They suggested that young people
need regular exercise and should be exposed to
different types of sports and activities. Some participants
felt that access to specific facilities (like a playground)
facilitated healthy lifestyles. Obstacles to a healthy
lifestyle included not participating in a sport, being “lazy”
and using technology (such as Xbox and Nintendo DS
computer games) for leisure. Participants mentioned
the perceived link between screen time (the amount of
time spent using a device like a computer) and unhealthy
lifestyles; they suggested limiting access to technology
as a means of promoting health and wellbeing.
“Don't play video games
or watch TV before
going to bed – you need
10-12 hours sleep.”
CONSULTATION WITH CHILDREN (8–12 YEARS)
9
2.1.4 Smoking
In the course of the consultation, smoking was repeatedly identified as a potential threat to health.
Participants mentioned the risks associated with having parents who smoked. This seems to suggest
awareness of the dangers of passive smoking, or a perception that children may follow their parents’
example. In addition, children mentioned drinking beer, smoking “weed” and taking other drugs as having a
negative impact on healthy lifestyles.
2.1.5 Home and family
The positive influence of the family in promoting a healthy lifestyle was another important theme. Home
was identified as a source of love and support and a place where children received guidance about healthy
lifestyles, particularly in relation to food choice and exercise. While most of the children’s comments
related to their parents, the role of siblings and grandparents in relation to healthy lifestyles was also
acknowledged. In addition, pets were seen as a positive influence. Negative aspects of home life that
presented obstacles to a healthy lifestyle included: parents giving children unhealthy foods, an unsafe
home environment and children being left at home alone.
2.1.6 Other issues
The following points were not raised in the ballot box vote but they were mentioned in the course of the
other sessions (body maps, placemats and lifeline).
School
School was seen as important in providing information and guidance on healthy lifestyles. However,
participants also identified a number of ways in which school can inhibit healthy lifestyles. Examples
included too much homework, which limits time available to play outside; not enough teachers or facilities
for physical education (PE); rules that prohibit running or playing in the yard; and vending machines on the
school grounds.
Local area and community
Participants highlighted a number of aspects of their local area that could facilitate a healthy lifestyle,
including access to parks and other facilities. In relation to negative influences, they noted hazards related
to walking and cycling, such as cars parking on cycle paths, and traffic near where children are playing.
Other negative factors were highlighted: littering, noise and environmental pollution, smoking, damaged
playgrounds and no other children in the area to play with.
Hygiene and healthcare
Regarding hygiene, the children highlighted the importance of regular washing, brushing teeth daily and
good skincare. In addition, they noted a number of issues related to medical care and healthcare that
could influence a healthy lifestyle, including the need for access to doctors and nurses, regular health
check-ups and having vaccine shots.
10
 

2.2.1 Lifelines (session 1)
The first session involved participants completing a lifeline, in which they identified supports and
obstacles to a healthy lifestyle.2 For this exercise, a long rectangular mat with a river depicted on it was
divided into two life stages (0–5 years and 6–12 years). Children were asked to use green markers to note
supporting factors and red markers to note barriers to a healthy lifestyle, for the two life stages. Their
responses are set out in Tables 8 and 9 in Appendix 3.
2.2.2 Ballot box voting (session 2)
The lifeline session was followed by a group discussion and sticky dot voting on two key topics emerging
from the lifeline exercise. The top two topics from each table were written onto cards and displayed on a
wall at the voting station. The children at each table were brought up to the wall by their facilitator to view
the cards and vote for the issues they felt were most important.
2 The lifeline method has been used in research with children aimed at gathering information on the child’s life history, in particular
important transitions and events in the child’s life. It enables the incorporation of some of the advantages of a qualitative longitudinal
study in a research setting where it is not possible to follow children’s lives for a longer period of time (Pirskanen et al, 2015).
10
CONSULTATION WITH CHILDREN (8–12 YEARS)
11
Table 1: Results of ballot box voting with 8–12 year olds
TOPIC TOTAL
»Eat more fruit and vegetable and drink more milk and water every day.
»Nutritious food and drinks; eat fruit and vegetables every day.
33
»Sleep: not playing video games too close to bed; getting eight hours plus sleep a night;
reading books; soft music; getting right amount of sleep.
32
»Exercise and sport.
»More physical activities inside and outside school.
23
»No smoking in front of children, at home, in public places, in the car. 16
»Use your imagination to make-up active games to include exercises. 13
»Getting your vitamins and nutrients. 12
»Supporting parents to make [a] healthier life for children. 8
»Go to healthy restaurants. 7
The voting results are explored in chapter 4 (Discussion of findings).
2.2.3 Body map (session 3)
The next session involved body mapping, whereby one child in each group lay on large sheets of Fabriano
paper, while the other children drew the outline of their body.3 There were lots of volunteers and plenty
of fun involved in this activity. Once the body shape was drawn, the children were asked: “What are the
things that make this child healthy?”
The outcomes are set out in Table 2 below.
3
Typically, body maps have been used in relation to AIDs and HIV related health education projects and are “life-size paintings that
begin with a traced outline of the body, and explore the social, emotional, and physical aspects of living with HIV” (Wienand, 2006).
Their use has not yet been explored as a tool for researching children’s experiences of and attitudes to health and healthy living.
It was felt that representing this information visually could provide a shared reference point for the children and facilitator in the
healthy lifestyles consultations. By using children’s own visual representations of their bodies as a starting point from which to explore
particular healthy lifestyle issues, body mapping facilitated a less directive interviewing style than would have otherwise been possible.
12
Table 2: Results of body mapping with 8–12 year olds
TOPIC TOTAL
»Healthy food and balanced diet such as fruit, vegetables; no junk food, no sweets;
[importance of] dairy, water, vitamins and nutrients.
85
»Exercise, sport and PE 91
»Work 4
»Sleep and rest 15
»Fresh air 6
»Pets 7
»School, learning, education 10
»Less time watching TV, on computer or video games 8
»Family, grannies, parents 8
»Friends 8
»Happiness, love 14
»No smoking 2
2.2.4 Placemat (session 4)
The final session involved the use of a placemat to elicit more detail on the topics identified in the body
mapping exercise. The body map completed by the group was hung on the wall for reference purposes
and the children began working on a floor placemat, which was divided into three sections: at home; at
school; and in your area. The children were asked to think about the question, “How can we make this
child healthier?” The outcomes are presented in Tables 3–5 below.
Table 3: Making a child healthier at home (8–12 year olds)
TOPIC TOTAL
»Healthy food and balanced diet such as eating fruit and vegetables; not too many sugary
drinks or sweets and less junk food.
46
»Sports and exercise 16
»Playing outside 11
»No to Xbox, video games etc. 7
»Reading 2
»Sleep 4
»Eating and exercising with family 5
»Love 3
»Friends 3
CONSULTATION WITH CHILDREN (8–12 YEARS)
13
Table 4: Making a child healthier at school (8–12 year olds)
TOPIC TOTAL
Sports and exercise – more gym or PE in school 36
Proper facilities in school for sport and exercise 5
Fruit and vegetables available in school 8
Healthy eating lunches, canteen, policy 15
Friends 5
No sports drinks; drink milk and water 5
Table 5: Making a child healthier in the community (8–12 year olds)
TOPIC TOTAL
»Sports facilities 24
»Parks nearby 5
»Playgrounds 3
»Cycling lanes, bicycle racks, paths 4
»Do more exercise, sports 27
»Play, go outside more 14
»Clear food labelling 1
»No littering 2
»Grass, trees, biodiversity 3
»Shopping with parents 5
”Too much
homework keeps
us from time that
we would spend
outside!”
“Encourage young
people to join youth groups,
which increases confidence
and increases social
interaction.”



3
16
A total of 34 young people from Comhairle na nÓg between the ages of 13 and 17 years participated in
the consultation process. The first session with this age group began with warm-up exercises, after which
they were divided into five groups. Each group then engaged in a series of discussion-focused activities
and exercises, concluding with a vote on a number of barriers and contributors to a healthy lifestyle (see
Table 6 in section 3.2.3 for further detail). The themes that emerged from these exercises are presented
below, in order of popularity (determined through the ballot box vote). This analysis is based on data
from all stages of the consultation process with young people. (Tables 10 and 11 in Appendix 3 set out the
raw data on the young people’s views on contributing factors to a healthy lifestyle.)
 

3.1.1 Barriers to a healthy lifestyle
Body image and media influences
Findings suggest that young people feel that they are being judged on the basis of “how they look” and are
under pressure to conform to a particular body image – to be “skinnier” or, in the case of boys, “bulkier”.
Perceptions of the ideal body were influenced by celebrities, models and sports figures, with further
pressure coming from clothes retailers, social media and peer groups. In order to achieve a particular
body image, some young people described how they engaged in unhealthy practices, including taking
steroids, using lip pumps (for fuller lips), smoking for weight loss, and crash diets.
Self-harm and eating disorders
Participants perceived a stigma attached to eating disorders and felt that it is difficult for young people
to discuss this problem. They emphasised the need for greater openness on this issue and the need to
raise awareness of it within schools; and the importance of confidence-building through membership of
youth organisations, access to support groups and mental health services (like Mindspace or Jigsaw), and
talking to a counsellor or friends and family. Notably while young people identified eating disorders such
as bulimia and anorexia as a significant problem, the issue of obesity was rarely mentioned.
Home and families
Parents and families were consistently identified as a source of support and positive reinforcement.
However, young people also raised issues about some parents not having enough time to spend with
their children, due to work commitments or, in some cases, separation and divorce. Young people may
also feel under pressure to meet parental expectations or worry that they are a disappointment to their
parents. Of particular concern, participants spoke of how some young people suffer emotional abuse:
“being put down – treated like they are not good enough”.
Stress related to school exams
Another key barrier to healthy lifestyles identified by the young people was that of stress, caused by
exams, heavy study workloads and the pressure to achieve sufficient entry points for college. Young
people discussed how stress and lack of time due to excessive school work and homework can in turn
contribute to sedentary and unhealthy lifestyles. While some comments indicated that teachers were
“too demanding”, others made it clear that teachers could also be helpful and supportive.
16
CONSULTATION WITH YOUNG PEOPLE (13–17 YEARS)
17
No one listening to children
Findings suggest that families can be a
source of stress and anxiety for children and
young people. Lack of communication with
parents was seen as a central issue and many young
people felt that, at home, they were not being heard or that their opinions were not valued there.
SPHE classes do not teach healthy living
Social, personal and health education (SPHE) was identified as a barrier to healthy living and
suggestions were made about how it might be developed. Young people were critical of how
the subject was taught and claimed that SPHE teachers were not adequately trained for their
role. They also suggested that there should be more SPHE classes and that certain issues be
included or covered more comprehensively in them, including nutrition, healthy living and
eating disorders.
Negative peer pressure
Findings indicate that negative peer pressure can be a source of stress and anxiety for young
people. At school, some young people struggle to “fit in” and make friends. They may experience peer
pressure or bullying, which leads to feelings of isolation and low self-esteem.
3.1.2 Factors contributing to a healthy lifestyle
Magazines, body image and media
Most of the young people felt that responsible journalism can contribute to a healthy lifestyle. This
includes magazines that identify images that are Photoshopped (altered digitally). Young people made a
number of suggestions on addressing problems associated with body image, including: raising awareness
through schools and promoting greater acceptance of people “the way they are”; building self-
confidence through workshops, youth groups and other activities; restricting the use of Photoshopped
images in the media; and using models and mannequins “of all shapes and sizes”.
Acceptance of who you are – mental health and emotional support
Participants’ understanding of health was not limited to physical aspects but included mental and
emotional health as well. In fact, the findings suggest that young people are very concerned with
issues relating to mental health and emotional wellbeing. Healthy lifestyles are associated with having
supportive families and friends, who provide encouragement, companionship, understanding and a
positive influence.
Nutrition clinics and better information around healthy eating
Educating young people on “healthy eating and nutrition” was seen as a key contributory factor for a
healthy lifestyle. One suggestion was the establishment of a “nutrition clinic”, which could help young
people make better choices in seeking to maintain a healthier lifestyle, or lose weight safely in a fun
way. Other suggestions included more counsellors in schools, better supports generally, and improved
websites and advertising campaigns.
“Pressure from teachers
for exams and homework is
not for your healthy lifestyle –
might start eating more and
overthink everything.”
18
PE that suits everyone’s needs
Young people identified school PE as “helping with a healthy lifestyle”. However, they were generally
critical of the options available to them in this class. Several participants clearly objected to being
“forced” to do PE in school, feeling that it should not be a compulsory subject within the school
curriculum. Some felt self-conscious or embarrassed about their appearance while changing clothes and
while taking part. They noted the lack of choice in PE, with few alternatives to team sports, and the failure
to cater for other interests.
Healthy options from the school canteen
Participants felt that a positive attitude towards food should also be promoted in schools through the
sale of healthy foods in canteens and extending campaigns such as Bord Bia’s healthy eating programme,
Food Dudes.
Parents providing healthy foods for their children
Parents were seen as having an important impact on a healthy lifestyle because of their central role –
in buying and preparing food, and in facilitating children’s access to parks, playgrounds and clubs. In
addition, parents can set an example for their children through their own behaviour.
Listening to children and young people
Participants voted for “listening to children” as a factor that contributes to a healthy lifestyle: “children
should be able to express their feelings and thoughts openly”. They recognised the importance of voice
and of being listened to for their wellbeing.
Good teachers who guide
students and relieve stress
Young people identified the value of “good
teachers who guide students and relieve stress”.
They recommended training for teachers on “how
to treat students” and identifying types of bullying.
Youth groups
Youth groups such as Foróige and the No Name Club were identified as playing a
positive role in enabling young people to maintain a healthy lifestyle. In particular,
participants emphasised the social and non-competitive aspects of these activities.
They recommended more funding for youth clubs.
“PE should suit
everyone’s needs
(especially if you are
not sporty).”
CONSULTATION WITH YOUNG PEOPLE (13–17 YEARS)
19
 

3.2.1 Lifeline (session 1)
As with the consultation with children, a lifeline session was conducted with the young people to elicit
their views on and experiences of factors that contribute to and inhibit a healthy lifestyle, across different
stages of childhood. In their case the lifeline was divided into three stages (0–5 years, 6–12 years; 13–17
years) to reflect their experience of all three age cohorts. (Their full responses are set out in Tables 10
and 11 in Appendix 3.)
Following completion of the timeline, young people used sticky dot voting to identify the most important
topics. The top two issues from each group were used by the facilitators to draw up a list of the most
common ones. There was quite a degree of overlap arising from the lifelines, which enabled facilitators to
identify five topics for more in-depth discussion at the next session – the World Café.
3.2.2 The World Café (session 2)
The World Café workshop sought to obtain more detail on the following key topics, which were identified
through the timeline exercise:
1. Parents and family;
2. Bullying;
3. Stress, society and peer pressure;
4. Media pressure (including magazines, social media, and Photoshopping of models
and celebrities); and
5. Eating disorders.
These themes are explored below.
2020
Parents and family
Positive comments – factors that are working
HHealthy lifestyles: Parents providing healthy food and encouraging children to get involved
in sport; parents’ important influence on children – “if a parent has a healthy lifestyle, [their]
children will”.
HCommunication: Parents “open to talk”, who “want to help”; children should be able to
“express feelings and thoughts”.
HParents and education: Parents encouraging children to attend school and “to work harder
in school”.
HFamily relationships: The importance of spending time with children and “treating all siblings
equally”.
Concerns – factors that are not working or helping
HRelationship problems, arguments and an “unstable” home life make children feel “unwanted”
and may lead to them having “an unstable life when they leave home”. Separation of parents
can lead to “divided time with parents, moving house”.
HNeglect and abuse: Parents “not looking after the child properly”; “abusing the child”, “foster
parents not treating you properly”.
HParents not spending time with children: “Parents not being there – don’t know them [their
children] as much as [they] should”; “No bond with parents because [of] work or family problems”.
HLack of communication/children’s voice not being heard: “Parents not listening to the child”,
“opinions being discarded”.
HUnhealthy eating habits: Parents may not “have
time to feed kid”; “Parents/grandparents
should not give into young children asking
for ‘treats’ (junk food) – bad habit”.
HParental pressures can lead to feelings of
stress: “Feeling sense of stress to please
parents as the perfect student.”
HVarious other points raised under this heading (though not elaborated on)
included “mental problems”, “depression”, “lack of good sleep”, “financial
position”, “smoke”, “drink”, “activities/habits of the parent”. A few participants
noted that parental behaviour influences children.
What else would help?
Participants also suggested:
Hparenting courses;
Han awareness campaign and information for new parents;
Hcounselling or advice from family and friends;
Hnot allowing abuse or corporal punishment;
Hsupport in school for people who those who do not have support at home; and
Ha “buddy programme” to help first year secondary school students.
" If a parent has
a healthy lifestyle,
[their] children will."
CONSULTATION WITH YOUNG PEOPLE (13–17 YEARS)
21
Bullying
Positive comments – factors that are working
HTeachers supervising in yard; zero tolerance bullying policy in schools.
HGreater awareness about bullying, for example through the school chaplain, school talks,
“bully workshops”, “talks on self-acceptance and acceptance of others”, self-help websites,
and talks in schools involving teenage speakers, which can be “more relatable”.
HJoining groups, making friends, youth clubs, mentoring programmes, “buddy bench”
in primary school to make new friends.
HSupport groups and Childline.
HTaking up activities (like boxing); changes to PE in school.
HCulture week in school to create “more diversity and understanding”.
Concerns – factors that are not working
HBullying can “come in many different ways” (like being excluded or being laughed at) and can
affect a person’s mental and physical health. It leads to feelings of loneliness, unhappiness,
worthlessness and low self-esteem. Those who are bullied may become isolated and have
“no friends”.
HBullying can be associated with body image and size; coming from another culture;
and performance in PE or participating in sports that are not seen as “cool”.
HBullying can lead to self-harm and eating disorders.
HBullying goes on outside of school but school policy on bullying is only enforced
“until uniform is off”.
What else would help?
Participants also suggested:
Hhaving councillors in schools
and talking about other
mental health problems;
Huse of presentations, such as plays
or storytelling to raise awareness, and
having an anti-bullying week in schools;
Henforcing bullying policy, with “zero tolerance of bullying on school grounds including
bus”, using different strategies to deal with bullying;
Hmaking PE class not compulsory and, in addition, more options for pupils in PE,
as the role of physical activity in helping to release pent-up emotions and stress
was recognised, for example it was noted, “you can take out your anger in sports
and arts”;
Hthat “beep tests” (a multi-stage fitness test) in PE should be abandoned as they
encourage competitiveness;
Htraining for teachers to identify different types of bullying and changes in the content
and teaching of SPHE – “Teachers need to learn about how to teach SPHE”.
“Peer pressure can show
different influences; just because
your friends do something does
not mean you will do the same thing.
It’s all about choice.”
22
Stress, society and peer pressure
Positive comments – factors that are working
HPositive aspects of stress and peer pressure – it “makes you more motivated”, “can give you
a “push” to try something new”.
HYoung people can resist peer pressure.
Concerns – factors that are not working
HStress can be caused by a number of factors, including pressure of exams and homework, the
need to get a certain number of points for college; concerns over body image and the need to
“look a certain way”.
HFamily and peers can be a source of stress, for example the issue of “fitting in” in classes and
peer groups, or pressure to match previous family members’ school results. Social media can
be conducive to bullying.
HParticipants identified a range of negative outcomes of stress and peer pressure, including
anxiety, low self-esteem, unhealthy lifestyles, comfort eating and anorexia.
HExams pressure and homework are not conducive to healthy lifestyles.
What else would help?
Participants also suggested:
Hmore activities in school such as drama;
Hmore SPHE classes and changes to the content and teaching of SPHE
(“Have more experienced adults to teach the class”);
Htalks for teachers on how to treat students;
Hmore guidance councillors, with weekly talks in school and classes to
deal with stress;
Hchanges to PE class (“PE class – [should be] more about relieving stress”).
Hencouraging young people to join youth groups and more funding for
youth clubs;
Hservices like Jigsaw and Mindspace should have Facebook pages
on healthy living.
Media pressure
Positive comments – factors that are working
HA positive trend was observed, towards a better level of acceptance
of all body types.
HChanges to the display of clothes in shops, so that manikins better reflect
real figures (“Not having all skinny window manikins so people that don’t
have perfect figure don’t think they’re not the right shape or size”).
HBetter advertisements to make people more aware of healthy weights.
HTalks on the practice of Photoshopped images and its negative impacts
“e.g. how models change appearance”.
CONSULTATION WITH YOUNG PEOPLE (13–17 YEARS)
23
Concerns – factors that are not working
HPeople are judged by the way they look.
HPeople want the perfect body but it is unrealistic.
HParticipants spoke of a number of unhealthy practices which are used to achieve a certain
image and body size, for example using lip pumps to achieve fuller lips, taking steroids and
protein shakes “to be bulky”, “starving oneself to be skinny”. This can lead to eating disorders
including anorexia and bulimia.
HYoung people are influenced by models and media celebrities, who often project an
unrealistic, unobtainable body image, particularly if their image is Photoshopped,
e.g. “Skinny people being shown downsized further – Be aware it’s not real”.
HSocial media creates further pressure to look a certain way and could also be used to project
an unreal image.
H“Skinny mannequins” are used in shop displays and clothes that are described as large “can be
very small”.
HYoung people may also experience peer pressure in relation to body image, e.g. “Pressure of
wanting to have the same figure as all of your friends”.
What else would help?
Participants also suggested:
Hgreater acceptance of people the way they are by teaching children in schools,
“that it is okay to look different than other people,” and “that just because you
don’t have a skinny body doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to be healthy”;
Hbut at the same time, “be careful as this can go the opposite way and normalise
obesity”;
Husing youth groups “to help boost confidence” – “being a part of something to
showcase your skills e.g. Comhairle”;
Hconfidence-building workshops and talking to people;
Hmagazines to use models representing different cultures, races and sizes;
Hrestricting or disallowing Photoshopping and specifying if an image has been
digitally altered;
Hin shops, use of manikin of all sizes; and
HTV programmes showing people “with more than one body shape”.
Eating disorders
Positive comments – factors things that are working
HSports clubs and youth groups boost young people’s confidence and mental
health.
HInformation on healthy lifestyles – “Getting someone to talk to schools about
proper foods” and “start[ing] with a positive attitude to food”.
HSupport services, including counsellors, mental health services, support groups,
Childline.
HFriends and a good support system.
HSchool canteens selling healthy options, thus encouraging healthy diets among
students. Healthy eating initiative such as Food Dudes.
HGreater awareness of eating disorders and acceptance of people with eating
disorders.
24
Concerns – factors that are not working
HTeachers are not trained in SPHE. SPHE classes do not teach healthy living; students need
to be educated around this area, especially around eating disorders.
HThere is a need to raise awareness and remove the stigma around eating disorders and mental
health disorders. People can be made feel as though it is their own fault for having an eating
disorder.
HMedia, models, sports stars and celebrities make people feel they should “look a certain way”;
they project an unrealistic body image to which young people aspire: “Media has the power
to reinforce a healthy body image. But instead chooses to distort it”.
HUnhealthy practices can be used to achieve a desired body image, like “crash diets” and
smoking for weight loss.
HSchool canteens sometimes sell fizzy drinks and chips.
HPeople judge other people on the way they look, which can cause an eating disorder.
What else would help?
Participants also suggested:
Hthe establishment of “nutrition clinics” to show young people “healthier examples on how
to maintain a healthier lifestyle or how to safely lose weight”;
Hhaving a mental health counsellor in schools, making it easier for people to get help;
Hgreater awareness of and better support for people with eating disorders, an issue that should
be addressed in school, for example in SPHE class;
Htraining for SPHE teachers: “SPHE teachers should be trained and have a module to follow
on healthy living and these disorders”;
Hnot judging people who are suffering from an eating disorder;
Heducating people around healthy living and nutrition.
CONSULTATION WITH YOUNG PEOPLE (13–17 YEARS)
25
3.2.3 Ballot box voting (session 3)
Session 3 involved sticky dot voting. Young people had an opportunity to cast two votes on solutions,
or factors that are working, and two votes on concerns, or factors that are not working, with regard to
children’s healthy living, as identified on each placemat. The facilitators brought the top 10 issues in each
category (solutions and concerns) to the final session, which involved a ballot box vote. Ten green cards
and 10 red cards were placed on a wall and each young person was given three voting cards to vote on the
three most important issues. The result of the vote was then announced to the group.
Table 6: Results of voting exercise with 13–17 year olds
BARRIERS TO A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE VOTES
Unrealistic body image: Models in magazine having perfect skin, which is intimidating for
teens that may have spots and blemishes.
20
Parents “not being there”, who don’t know their children as well as they should. 17
Self-harm and eating disorders related to bullying. 13
Exams causing stress. 10
No one listening to the child’s opinion. 8
SPHE classes not teaching healthy living and the need for students to be educated around
this area – especially eating disorders. This issue not being raised in schools and a strong
stigma around it.
8
Negative peer pressure, which can cause negative reactions – anxiety, anorexia nervosa,
comfort eating, substance abuse.
7
Trying to get healthy in an unhealthy way. 5
Young people can be made to feel like it’s their own fault for having an eating disorder –
this will lead to worse mental health.
5
CONTRIBUTING TO A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE VOTES
Magazines that identify images that have been Photoshopped. 16
Acceptance of who you are. 14
Establishment of a “nutrition clinic” to show young people and students better alternatives
and healthy examples on how to maintain a healthier lifestyle or to safely lose weight in a
fun, non-typical way (like eating salad and cutting down calories).
13
A PE class that suits everyone’s needs (especially those who are not sporty). 11
School canteens selling healthy options, thus encouraging healthy diets, and not selling
fizzy drinks or chips every day.
9
Parents providing healthy foods for their children. 8
Children being able to express their feelings and thoughts openly. 7
Rather than there just being “plus size models” there should be all women of all shapes and
sizes, as everyone perceives beauty differently.
5
Good teachers who guide students and relieve stress. 5
Encouraging young people to join youth groups, which increases confidence and increases
social interaction.
3
The voting results are explored in chapter 4 (Discussion of findings).
“Media has the power to
reinforce a healthy body image.
But instead [it] chooses to
distort it.”


4
28
 
Children voted on the issues they felt were most important to a healthy lifestyle (see Table 1 in section
2.2.2). The following themes were identified, in this order of popularity:
Hchoice of food, in particular eating more fruit and vegetables, drinking milk and water, getting
enough vitamins and going to healthy restaurants;
Hgetting sufficient sleep;
Hexercise and activity;
Hnot smoking; and
Hsupporting parents in enabling their children to be healthier.
Each of these issues is discussed below. (See chapter 2 for further detail on the ballot vote.)
4.1.1 Food choice and healthy eating
The most popular topics in the primary school ballot box voting related to food choice and healthy eating:
“eat more fruit and vegetable and drink more milk and water every day” and “nutritious food and drinks/
eat fruit and veg every day” (33 votes).
Positive aspects of food choice and healthy eating
In the timelines, body map and placemat sessions, children identified a range of fruits and vegetables
(including carrots, potatoes, avocado, apples, bananas, grapes, spinach and cabbage) and fruit-based
drinks (fresh juice and smoothies) that promoted health. This is consistent with previous research, which
shows that healthy eating is often associated with fruit and vegetables (McKindley et al, 2005; Fitzgerald
et al, 2010; Croll et al, 2001) though it is interesting to note the importance this cohort also attributed to
drinking water and milk. Connected to food choice and healthy eating, the children also voted for “getting
your vitamins and nutrients” (12 votes) and “going to healthy restaurants” (seven votes).
Throughout the consultation process, children identified a number of other issues
related to food choices (see Tables 1–2 in chapter 2 and Tables 8–9 in Appendix 3 for
full detail). In addition to fruit and vegetables, they identified a range of other foods as
being particularly healthy, including rice, pasta, porridge, nuts, meat, ham, fish, chicken,
duck, turkey, eggs, cheese and honey, as well as drinks such as green tea and breast
milk for infants. They also mentioned the properties of various foods (like protein
in meat, calcium in cheese and milk) and had some awareness of the differences
between nutritious and non-nutritious foods. Some participants referred to home-
grown, non-processed foods and organic foods as being healthier. Some cited health
messages, such as “five a day”, eating “your greens”, the food pyramid and drinking two
litres of water a day. They also spoke about the importance of certain meals, like having
a good breakfast and a healthy lunch. Energy drinks were identified as being healthy,
which might suggest confusion regarding the messages in advertisements for such
products. Previous research suggests that while children may be able to distinguish
between healthy and unhealthy foods, some confusion and “myths” still exist about the
nutritional value of certain foods, which can be partly attributed to advertising and partly
to inconsistent health messages (Hesketh et al, 2005).
DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS
29
Negative aspects of food choice and healthy eating
Participants cited unhealthy foods and eating behaviours: too much junk food, fast food, salty food, too
much red meat and processed foods and too much of the same food. They also mentioned the negative
health impacts of too many sweets, high sugar bars, chocolate, ice-cream and fizzy drinks. In relation to
eating out, they shared negative associations with fast food, like Chinese food, “chipper” foods, McDonald’s
and Kentucky Fried Chicken; descriptions of typical fast food included greasy food, fatty foods, sausages,
pizza and chips. After-church bake sales were also cited as a place selling unhealthy foods.
Participants also spoke about calories – the consumption of too many or too few of them. One group
mentioned the negative impact of late-night snacking and eating sweets without parental permission.
Some of the children were critical of the perceived higher costs of healthy foods and the low cost of
“ready meals”. They felt that supermarkets should sell fresh fruit and vegetables more cheaply than
“ready meals”. One group discussed how certain foods labelled as “fat free” or “sugar free” might yet
be unhealthy, as they may contain additives or be highly processed. Similarly, participants in a study by
McKinley et al (2005) reported that unhealthy foods are packaged and advertised to make them appear
more appealing.
Our findings reflect those of a number of national and international studies that indicate children are
generally well informed about the health value of different foods, can identify healthy and unhealthy
foods and have some awareness of the nutrients contributing to foods being more or less healthy
(Hesketh et al, 2005; McKindley et al, 2005; Fitzgerald et al, 2010).
4.1.2 Getting sufficient sleep
Getting enough sleep was the second most popular issue, as voted by the children (32 votes). Sleep was
mentioned frequently during the consultation and there was a general belief that sleep contributes to
overall health. Some pointed to specific sleep habits and recommendations such as getting 10–12 hours
per night, going to bed early, making a bedtime schedule and not watching TV before going to bed. On
the other hand, sleeping too much, sleeping at particular times of the day (like “during the day” or “in the
middle of the day”) and staying in bed were identified as being problematic.
Chen et al (2008) in a meta-analysis of research found that sleep plays an important role in children’s
health and short sleep duration can increase the risk of childhood obesity. The all-island Irish body,
safefood, are currently running a public information campaign on the importance of sleep for
children’s health.4
4.1.3 Physical exercise and activities
The third most popular issue related to physical exercise; 23 votes related to “exercise and sport” and
“more physical activities inside and outside school”. Throughout the consultation, the children identified
a high number of physical activities that they associated with a healthy lifestyle (see Table 7 below).
They also highlighted the importance of fresh air, outdoor play and access to playgrounds for children.
4
For further information, see http://www.safefood.eu/Childhood-Obesity/It-s-Bedtime/Get-started.aspx.
30
In addition, they mentioned a number of other issues that positively impacted on a healthy lifestyle,
including role models in the field of sports, such as Usain Bolt, “because he’s super-fast”, or the footballer
Messi, “because he’s fast and skilful”.
Participants suggested that children need regular exercise and that they should be exposed to different
types of sports and a variety of activities. Some also highlighted the importance to a healthy lifestyle
of access to specific facilities, such as swimming pools, playgrounds, pitches, gyms, bike parks, cycle
lanes and skate parks. Perceived obstacles to a healthy lifestyle that related to exercise included not
participating in a sport, “staying in your pyjamas”, being lazy and using technology for leisure. Participants
mentioned the perceived link between screen time (the amount of time spent using a device like a
computer) and unhealthy lifestyles. This reflects the Layte and McCrory (2011) study, which, using data
from the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) study, found a significant relationship between levels of physical
exercise and sedentarism and the risk of developing childhood obesity.
Other identified obstacles include not learning how to cycle, not getting outside, bad weather, staying in
your room all day and “getting lifts everywhere”.
Table 7: Exercise and activities identified by children
Cycling
Riding scooters
Playing games
Running
Playing with toys
Going to the park
Walking to school
Climbing
Swimming
Karate
Skating
Gymnastics
Horse riding
Skipping
Jumping
Trampoline
Dancing
Hopscotch skipping
Workouts Tennis/badminton
Catch games
Hopscotch
Boxing
Baby gym
Ballet
Baton twirling
Football
Hockey
Rugby
Basketball
GAA
Soccer
4.1.4 Not smoking
Sixteen children voted that “no smoking in front of children, at home, in public places, in the car” is a key
issue for a healthy lifestyle. Throughout the consultation, smoking was repeatedly identified as a potential
threat to health. For example, during the timeline session, participants mentioned the risks of “being
around smoking adults” and having a “smoking parent”, which seems to suggest that children are aware
of the dangers of passive smoking or that children may follow their parents’ example and start smoking
themselves. In addition, children mentioned drinking beer, smoking “weed” and taking other drugs as
having a negative health impact.
DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS
31
4.1.5 Using your imagination
Thirteen children voted for “us[ing] [their] imagination to make up active games to include exercises”.
The role of imagination was brought up a number of other times during the consultation session. For
example, in the timelines session, children mentioned that “reading gives imagination” and suggested
that children should “use your [their] imagination”. Linked to this topic, the children discussed the
importance of having fun as an important part of a healthy lifestyle. They also identified play in general,
playing with others and playing outside as important factors for healthy lifestyles.
Participants perceived a negative health impact of too much screen time and lack of exercise. They
suggested limiting access to technological products such as Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo, YouTube,
iPads and phones, and recommended that children should not spend too much time on such electronic
devices or watching TV.
4.1.6 Home and family
Eight children voted for “supporting parents to make healthier lives for children”. The influence of home
was frequently mentioned in relation to healthy lifestyles. Home was identified as a source of love and
affection and a place where children receive guidance, praise and support, as well as encouragement
about leading a healthy lifestyle. Healthy parents were seen as providing positive examples. Specifically,
children spoke about parents who provided healthy food and made homemade meals together as a
family, had rules and guidance on food and eating and reminded their children to exercise. Children also
said that family time could help them lead a healthy lifestyle. Parents were identified most frequently in
this regard, but siblings and grandparents were also mentioned.
Pets were also noted as a positive influence, especially dogs. One of the body maps contains numerous
drawings of cats and dogs, which may signify their importance to children.
The home environment was also identified as being important; positive factors included homes being
warm and clean. For younger children, in particular, parents and families were seen as playing a key role
in either promoting or limiting access to healthy foods. Previous research with children and young people
also suggests that parents play a key role in determining the types of food that children eat (Fitzgerald et
al, 2010). Healthy eating is often associated with parents and the home, while “fast food” is associated
with eating out with friends and other social situations (Shepherd et al, 2006; Croll et al, 2001: 195).
Negative aspects of home life, which presented obstacles to a healthy lifestyle, were also identified.
These included: parents giving children unhealthy foods; parents being irresponsible and smoking
cigarettes or “weed” in front of children; and an unsafe home environment. Children mentioned some
issues related to care, such as children being left alone and unsupervised, parents keeping their children
inside while they are at work, parents hitting their children, and parents not listening to their children.
Siblings were also mentioned as having a possibly negative influence on a healthy lifestyle. Children
associated being unhappy at home as an obstacle to a healthy lifestyle.
Becoming homeless was also identified as an obstacle to a healthy lifestyle.
32
4.1.7 Other issues addressed by children
School
School was cited as an important part of a healthy lifestyle. The children mentioned a number of key
issues, including the importance of schools providing lessons and information on healthy living. One group
suggested that children should be taught in schools how to make healthy decisions. One participant
mentioned the benefits of growing vegetables in school. The children felt that school was positive because
it was where they learned to read and write, which helped them develop a “healthy brain”.
School factors seen as having a negative impact on a healthy lifestyle included too much homework,
which restricted time for play outside, a heavy school bag, which made walking to school difficult, not
enough teachers or facilities for physical education (PE) in school, rules against running and playing strict
rules, and vending machines in schools. Children suggested PE should take place every day in school and
that there should be PE options for rainy days. It was suggested that each school should have facilities
such as football pitches with “proper nets”, a playground, a gym, swimming pool, as well as a longer school
playtime period and after-school activities. Children also mentioned the value of walking to school and
physical activities they could do at break time, like “playing on the yard”, “sports out at yard” and “exercise
on the yard”.
In relation to food provided in schools, children highlighted the important of healthy lunches: “fruit and
veg in lunch”. Suggestions here were similar to those made under the theme of food (see above). The
healthy eating programme Food Dudes was also mentioned by some of participants as a positive school
experience. One participant referred to “a healthy foods policy in school”, with “students involved”, but
there was little mention otherwise of a student voice in school on the topic of healthy living. Children
highlighted how schools could facilitate poor food practices and cultures.
Local area and community
Participants’ local area was seen as relevant to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Positive aspects included:
the physical environment including access to trees, wildlife and biodiversity; and having local places
to visit with friends such as a library and park. Negative factors included hazards related to walking
and cycling, such as cars always parking on cycle paths, traffic and speeding cars near where children
are playing. Other factors included not wanting to walk to school and an overreliance on being driven
to destinations instead of walking. Participants also highlighted problems like littering, noise and
environmental pollution, smoking, teenagers lighting fires in parks, making it difficult for children to play
there, damaged playgrounds, sports centres having vending machines selling unhealthy food and lack
of other children to play with in the local area. Similarly, previous research indicates that aspects of the
local environment (such as a lack of variety between different playgrounds, uninteresting playground
equipment and concerns about safety) can discourage physical activity among children (Hesketh et al,
2005; Veitch et al, 2007: 414). Some children in the current study felt they would benefit from campaigns
that focused on behaviour and attitudes to your locality, with messages such as “love your area” and
“have fun and play”.
DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS
33
Hygiene and healthcare
A number of issues related to hygiene were seen to influence a healthy lifestyle. These included being
clean; good practice identified here included showering, brushing teeth every day, good skin care and
washing hands. Participants noted a number of medical and health issues that could influence a healthy
lifestyle, including access to doctors and nurses, regular health check-ups and vaccine shots. Becoming
sick or ill was viewed as an obstacle to a healthy lifestyle. When asked to identify what makes a child
healthy the children mentioned different areas of the body including the heart, the brain, lungs, nose,
intestines, kidney and the immune system.
 
The young people voted on a number of barriers and contributors to healthy lifestyles (see Table 6 in
chapter 3 for a full list). The following barriers to a healthy lifestyle were identified, in order of popularity:
Hunrealistic body expectations, caused by models in magazines having perfect skin for
example, which can be intimidating for teens;
Hself-harm and eating disorders related to bullying and mental health issues;
Hparents “not being there”, not knowing their children as well as they should;
Hexams causing stress;
Hno one listening;
Hclasses on social, personal and health education (SPHE) not teaching healthy living;
Hnegative peer pressure; and
Htrying to get healthy in an unhealthy way.
“Social media is a
snapshot of somebody’s
life, and people consistently
compare themselves to
that image.”
The following factors, again listed in order of popularity, were identified as
facilitating a healthy lifestyle:
Hmagazines that identify images that have been Photoshopped;
Haccepting who you are – good mental health and support;
Ha “nutrition clinic”;
HPE in schools that suits everyone’s needs;
Hschool canteens selling healthy options;
Hparents providing healthy food choices;
Hlistening to children;
Hgood teachers who guide students and relieve stress; and
Hyouth clubs.
The following sections explore these findings in greater detail.
34
4.2.1 Barriers to a healthy lifestyle
Body image and media influences
Among young people, the most commonly voted barrier to a healthy lifestyle was that of “unrealistic body
image: Models in magazines having perfect skin. Intimidating for teens that may have spots and blemishes”
(20 votes). Findings from the consultation suggest that young people feel that they are being judged by
“how they look” and are under pressure to conform to a particular body image – to be “skinnier” or (in the
case of boys) “bulkier”. In order to achieve a particular body image, participants spoke about how some
young people engage in unhealthy practices, including taking steroids, using lip pumps (for fuller lips),
smoking for weight loss, crash diets and “starving oneself”. The pressure to lose weight may result in
eating
disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
Young people’s perceptions of the ideal body were influenced by celebrities, models and sports figures;
comments included, “people want to look like their idols”, “people watch famous people [models]
and want to become them”, “celebrities also influence people especially teenagers to look like them”.
However, celebrity images may undermine young people’s confidence in their own appearance, as one
participant pointed out: “models in magazines have perfect skin – intimidating for teens that may have
spots and blemishes”. The media is implicated in its projection of an unrealistic and (for most people)
unobtainable body image, particularly where images of celebrities and models are Photoshopped to alter
their body size:
“Models/celebrities [are]
Photoshopped – people
want the ‘perfect’ body, but
it is unrealistic.
“Skinny people being shown
downsized – Be aware
it’s not real!”
“Media has the power to
reinforce a healthy body
image. But instead [it]
chooses to distort it.
Social media creates further
pressure to look a certain
way and can also be used to
project an unrealistic image:
Clothes retailers contribute to stereotypes of the ideal body size by using “skinny mannequins” in shop
displays. Within their own peer groups, young people described how they also compare themselves to
friends and classmates, which can lead to dissatisfaction with their own appearance.
“Social media is allowing people
to alter their images without
doing actual work. We compare
ourselves to these images and push
ourselves to do harmful things –
anorexia, bulimia – in order to get
this unrealistic goal – it’s all
an illusion.
“Social media is a snapshot
of somebody’s life, and people
consistently compare themselves
to that image.”
DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS
35
The findings of this consultation are similar to those of an earlier Dáil na nÓg survey of over 2,000
children and young people, which highlighted the importance of body image for young people and the
factors that influence body image (O’Connell and Martin, 2012). While a majority of those surveyed said
that they were satisfied with their body image, almost two in three felt pressurised to look good for other
people, and more than half said that comparing themselves with others impacts negatively on their body
image. Other negative influences on body image included bullying, weight, media and celebrities, while
activity and sport, confidence, friends and family were the most important positive influences. Gender
and age emerged as highly significant factors influencing body image. For girls, body image satisfaction is
lower, while feeling pressured to look good for other people was found to be far higher. In relation to age,
the younger participants were more satisfied with their body image but from the mid-teens onwards a
marked decline in body image satisfaction begins to appear. The survey also found that dissatisfaction
with body image deterred some young people from taking part in sports, swimming and leisure activities,
while some young people resorted to unhealthy practices to achieve their goals, for example smoking to
lose weight and (in the case of boys) taking supplements and exercising too much, in order to achieve a
particular “masculinised” body type (O’Connell and Martin, 2012).
Trying to get healthy in an unhealthy way
Five votes were given by young people to the issue of “trying to get healthy in an unhealthy way”.
This issue was linked to the previous theme of body image and the impact of trying to attain an ideal
body. Participants described the frustration and disappointment associated with trying to alter their
appearance or body size, and how this can lead to extreme measures:
Some examples of this mentioned during the consultation by the young people included taking steroids
and protein shakes to be bulkier and to achieve a certain body shape, or starving oneself to be thinner.
They also discussed this issue in relation to eating disorders and highlighted the negative impact of crash
diets and smoking to lose weight.
Self-harm and eating disorders
The third most commonly voted barrier by the young people was “self-harm and eating disorders related
to bullying” (13 votes). In addition, five votes were for this statement: “Young people can be made to
feel like it’s their own fault for having an eating disorder – this will lead to worse mental health”. Eating
disorders were identified as a challenge to a healthy lifestyle for young people. The possible causes of
eating disorders were discussed, including media representation of celebrities and models, and people’s
tendency to judge others on the basis of appearance. The means of addressing eating disorders were
also identified. Examples include: building confidence through membership of youth organisations;
“People’s impatience leads them to pushing their bodies
to the extremes and expecting immediate results and get
really upset when they don’t see the results they want.
36
accessing support groups and mental health services (such as Mindspace and Jigsaw); and talking to a
counsellor or to friends and family. Participants felt that there was currently a stigma attached to eating
disorders and that it was difficult for young people to discuss this problem. They emphasised the need
for greater openness and the importance of raising awareness of this issue, particularly within schools
(for example through SPHE).
One of the notable findings of the research is that while young people identified eating disorders, such as
bulimia and anorexia, as a significant problem, the issue of obesity was mentioned only a few times in the
course of the consultation. Linked to this, young people mentioned that judging people can lead to eating
disorders: “people judge other people on the way they look, which causes eating disorders”.
Home and families
The second most popular issue identified by the young people in the ballot box voting was that of
“parents ‘not being there’, who don’t know their children as well as they should” (17 votes). The impact
of home and family on a healthy lifestyle was an important theme emerging from the consultation with
young people. During the lifelines session, parents and families were consistently identified as a source
of support and positive reinforcement. Participants mentioned various forms of emotional support,
for example, “a good upbringing – caring parents and family”, “motherly nurture” and “encouragement”.
Parents also have an important role in early education, for example by reading to their children. However,
the young people also raised issues about some parents not having enough time to spend with their
children, due to work commitments or, in some cases, separation and divorce. Busy lifestyles and lack of
family time may undermine the parent/child relationship.
Young people may also feel under pressure to meet parental expectations or worry that they are a
disappointment to their parents; comments here included, “feeling sense of stress to please parents as
the perfect student”; “pressure of previous family members’ school results”. Of particular concern is the
fact that some young people may be afraid of their parents or suffer emotional abuse: “being put down –
treated like they are not good enough”.
Stress related to school exams
The fourth most commonly voted barrier was “exams causing stress” (10 votes). Junior and Leaving
Certificate examinations, heavy workloads and the pressure to achieve a certain number of entry points for
college were identified as major causes of stress among young people, as the following comments illustrate.
“Parents not being there –
don’t know them as much
as you should.
“No bond with parents
because [of] work or family
problems.
“Parents not having enough
time to bring you places –
or make healthy food.
DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS
37
Stress and lack of time due to excessive school work or homework
can contribute to a sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle.
Although the stress associated with school work is generally
perceived to have a negative impact on physical and mental
wellbeing, one of the discussion groups also acknowledged that a
certain amount of stress can be beneficial, for example in motivating
young people to work harder and do well in school. In addition, while
some comments indicated that teachers were “too demanding”,
others made clear that teachers could also be helpful and
supportive, as illustrated by this comment.
“Schoolwork takes up time,
[you’re] not able to nd time for
sports clubs or to make healthy
food for yourself.
“Time organisation (management)
– it might be hard to nd time
for healthy lifestyles when you
have tons of homework.
“Pressure om teachers for
exams and homework is not for
your healthy lifestyle – might
start eating more and overthink
everything.
“Irish [exam] system is more like
a points race and teachers aren’t aware
of people’s mental state due to stress.
“Too much pressure to get points to full
the career you want and Leaving Cert is
a big reason for stress, young people are
depressed, stressed and under way too much
pressure.”
“Teachers who are good at guiding
students through exams give students
reassurance and relieve stress.
No one listening to children
The fifth most commonly identified barrier by young people was that of “no one listening to children’s
opinion”, which received eight votes. Findings from the lifelines session and group discussion suggest that
while families can be supportive, they can also be a source of stress and anxiety for children and young
people. Lack of communication was seen as a central issue. Young people felt that they were not being
listened to, as the following comments illustrate.
“Parents not listening
to the child.
“Parents stereotype teenagers,
parents might disregard their
children’s opinions based
on this.
“Child is scared to voice out
his/her opinion to parents –
feeling sense of fear.
38
The young people recognised the importance of having a voice and of being listened to for the holistic
wellbeing of children and young people. This reflects the findings in the research literature that children
become frustrated when they are not listened to by adults, including parents and teachers (Kirby et al,
2003). Recent research in Ireland by Horgan et al (2015) found that although home was most facilitative
of voice for children and young people, across the spaces of home, school and community, nonetheless
children and young people expressed frustration at parents not listening to them and cited examples of
tokenistic practices related to their participation at home.
SPHE classes do not teach healthy living
The sixth most commonly identified barrier related to SPHE classes in school; eight votes were for
the statement, “SPHE classes do not teach healthy living, students need to be educated around this
area – especially eating disorders. No talk of this in schools and a strong stigma around it”. A number of
criticisms were made of SPHE, as well as suggestions for how it might be developed in the future. Two
separate discussion groups were critical of how the subject was taught and claimed that SPHE teachers
were not adequately trained for their role.
Participants also suggested that there should be more SPHE classes and that certain issues be included
or covered more comprehensively in this class, including nutrition, healthy living, and eating disorders. It
was also suggested, during the lifelines session, that there could be more practical education regarding
factors enabling a healthy lifestyle, like cooking and walking, as well as education about obesity.
Negative peer pressure
Seven votes were for “negative peer pressure” as an obstacle to a healthy lifestyle. Participants shared how
young people compare themselves to their friends, leading in some cases to negative self-perceptions.
“Teachers need to
learn about how to
teach SPHE.
“Teachers do not teach
[SPHE] well. Have more
experienced adults to teach
the class.
“Teachers not trained
in SPHE.
“People can feel negative
because they can’t live up
to iends’ situation.
“Stress and feeling under pressure to t
in inside school … nding a subject hard,
but your iends don’t, causes a lot
of pressure.
DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS
39
The impact of “peer pressure” (both positive and negative)
was explored in one of the discussion groups. Negative peer
pressure can be a source of stress and anxiety for young people.
It is also associated with bullying. At school, some young people
struggle to “fit in” and make friends. They may experience peer
pressure or bullying, which lead to feelings of isolation and low
self-esteem. Finally, one participant in this discussion group
noted that young people can resist peer pressure.
4.2.2 Contributors to a healthy lifestyle
Magazines, body image and media
The most commonly voted factor contributing to a healthy lifestyle was “magazines that identify images
that are Photoshopped” (16 votes). Related to this issue was the statement: “It shouldn’t just be plus-size
models, it should be all women of all shapes and sizes as everyone perceives beauty differently” (five
votes). Young people made a number of suggestions on how to address problems associated with body
image, such as raising awareness through schools and promoting greater acceptance of people “the way
they are”; restricting the use of Photoshopped images in the media and including models “of all shapes
and sizes”; building self-confidence through workshops, youth groups and other activities; and use of
mannequins of varying sizes in shop displays.
The 2011 report of the Dáil na nÓg survey on body image recommended that a logo be placed on
airbrushed images. However, it was not possible to add such a symbol to airbrushed images across all
advertisements in the Irish media as the vast majority of them are produced outside of Ireland (O’Connell
and Martin, 2012). Participants of that survey also made a range of suggestions for raising awareness about
the importance of a healthy body image, including: awareness-raising campaigns, personal development
programmes to develop confidence and wellbeing, more information on healthy lifestyles and the harm
associated with eating disorders, and promoting sports and exercise (O’Connell and Martin, 2012: 26–27).
Acceptance of who you are – mental health and emotional support
“Acceptance of who you are” the was second most voted on factor contributing to a healthy lifestyle (14
votes). The findings from the consultation suggest that young people, when asked about healthy lifestyle, are
concerned with issues relating to mental health and emotional wellbeing. As shown earlier, a healthy lifestyle
is often associated with having a supportive family and friendship groups that provide encouragement,
companionship, understanding and a positive influence. Dissatisfaction over own appearance and body size
can lead to low self-esteem, unhealthy lifestyle choices and eating disorders. Similar to other consultations
with children and young people, the young people’s understanding of health was not limited to physical
aspects but included mental and emotional health (Wetton and McWhirter, 1998: 246).
Nutrition clinic
Thirteen young people voted that a “nutritional clinic – to show young people and students better
alternatives and healthy examples on how to maintain a healthier lifestyle or to safely lose weight in a fun
and non-typical way (e.g. eating salad and cutting down calories)” could contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
This issue was identified during a discussion on eating disorders; participants commented that people
should be “educated around healthy eating and nutrition”. Other suggestions included: having more
counsellors in school; better supports; websites and advertising campaigns that promote awareness;
and creating an environment in which people can “talk more openly about eating disorders”.
“Peer pressure can show different
inuences; just because your iends do
something does not mean you will do the
same thing. It’s all about choice.
40
In previous research with children and young people, participants suggested the need for better
food labelling in general (Shepard et al, 2006) and teaching children good eating habits at early ages
(Neumark-Sztainer et al, 1999).
PE that meets everyone’s needs
Eleven young people voted that “PE should suit everyone’s needs (especially if you are not sporty)”.
In the lifelines session, young people identified PE as something that “help[s] with a healthy lifestyle”.
However, the discussion groups were generally more critical and several participants clearly objected to
being “forced” to do sports or PE in school. They noted the lack of choice and failure to cater for different
interests; for example, it was noted there is “nothing to do if you are not into team sports”. In addition, some
young people felt self-conscious or embarrassed about their appearance while changing and participating.
Others felt that PE should not be a compulsory subject within the school curriculum. In particular, it was
noted by young people that few alternatives to team sports were offered during PE classes. Relevant to
this, data from the Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children survey indicate that physical activity levels
decrease with age from middle school years onwards (Obesity Taskforce, 2005: 45).
Competitiveness in PE can also be a source of peer pressure and bullying; as one participant pointed out,
“people make fun of you for not being as good as others”. Comments suggest the need for greater variety
within PE so that it is “enjoyable for all types”. It was also suggested that beep tests should be abandoned
as they are too competitive. Research by Curtis (2008) found that school-based PE may be challenging
for children who are over-weight, who can feel they are under surveillance and who may be teased or
bullied. This study also found that the requirement to participate in school-based PE can exacerbate
young people’s vulnerability within the school environment (Curtis, 2008: 413).
School canteen selling healthy options
Nine votes supported the idea of the “school canteen selling healthy options e.g. encouraging healthy
diets, not selling fizzy drinks in canteen or serving chips every day”. Participants felt that a positive
attitude towards food should also be promoted in schools through the sale of healthy foods in canteens
and campaigns such as Food Dudes. Previous research has revealed the high number of unhealthy food
options on school canteen menus and has highlighted the need for healthier options (Hesketh et al,
2005; McKindley et al, 2005).
Parents providing healthy foods for their children
Eight votes supported “parents providing healthy foods for their children”. As noted above, parents
are seen as having an important impact on healthy lifestyles because of their central role in buying and
preparing food, and in facilitating children’s access to parks, playgrounds and clubs. In addition, parents
can set an example for their children through their own behaviour; for example, choosing to smoke “sets
a bad example for future years”.
“If a parent has a healthy lifestyle, [their] children will”.
DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS
41
It was recommended that there should be restrictions on the amount of junk food and sweets given to
children by their parents and grandparents. A previous review of international research literature on
healthy eating reported that children and young people predominately associate healthy eating with
the home environment, also identifying the use of snack food as treats by parents and grandparents as
problematic (Stevenson et al, 2007).
Listening to children and young people
Seven young people voted that, “children should be able to express their feelings and thoughts openly”.
A recurring theme is that young people feel that their voice is not being heard or their opinions valued at
home. Theis (2010) discusses the involvement of children in the home and school as a civil right, one that
has an immediate impact on children, and argues that adults listening to children is a central aspect of the
expression of this civil right. Participation of children and young people in everyday life contributes to their
wellbeing (The Children’s Society, 2013) and fosters a sense of value and self-worth (Davey et al, 2010).
Good teachers who guide students and relieve stress
“Good teachers who guide students and relieve stress” received five votes. The young people
recommended talks for teachers on “how to treat students”. The young people discussed the negative
impact of exam stress and homework on a healthy lifestyle. The young people also suggested that
teachers should be educated to identify different types of bullying. Horgan et al (2015) identified the
importance for young people of good relationships with their teachers.
Join youth groups
Finally, three votes supported “encourag[ing] young people to join youth groups, [which] increases
confidence and increases social interaction”. Youth groups such as Foróige and the No Name Club were
identified by young people as playing a positive role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. They particularly
emphasised the social and non-competitive aspects of activities within such youth groups. In relation
to this, they recommended more funding for youth clubs. This reflects the findings of a study on
participation in decision-making, in which young people highlighted the value of local youth projects or
groups, detailing the important relationships developed with youth workers, the identification of the venue
as their space and the sense of control and voice they gained from being involved (Horgan et al, 2015).
4.2.3 Other issues addressed by young people
Peers and friendships
Friends and other peers can also have a positive impact in relation to healthy lifestyle; for example, children go
to the park and play outdoors with friends, and young people may emulate their friends’ healthy eating habits:
“If they lead a healthy lifestyle you would be more inclined to lead one too”. Findings from the consultation
suggest that friendship groups are an important source of companionship and support for children and young
people. Participants noted, for example, that friends provide “counselling/advice” and that “true friends … help
you through bad times”. In relation to friends and food, some of the young people felt that it was cheaper to get
fast food with friends rather than healthy food and there was a tendency for teenagers to socialise in fast food
restaurants. Similarly, Shepherd et al (2006), in a review of international literature on healthy eating, reported
that healthy foods were predominantly associated with parents/adults and the home, while “fast food” was
associated with “pleasure, friendship and social environments” (2006: 248).
42
Physical exercise and activities
Going to parks and playgrounds, participating in sports, playing outdoors and joining clubs and gyms
were all identified as important aspects of a healthy lifestyle. Young people felt that, for younger children
in particular, parents played a key role in promoting exercise; as one participant pointed out, “Parents
should bring children outdoors for fresh air/to play (need supervision due to age)”. Location was seen as a
significant variable when considering young people’s level of engagement. It was noted that while a “wide
range of sports [are] available in big towns/cities”, fewer facilities are available in rural areas. It was also
noted that young people tend to lose interest in sports as they get older or that they may have less time
to participate due to the pressures of school work and competing interests (such as computer games
and social media).
Engagement with technology
The use of technology – phones, computers and iPads for example – for leisure was generally perceived
negatively. The following main points were raised by participants.
HUse of technology leads to sedentary lifestyles, as children and teenagers spend more
time indoors rather than engaging in activities outside. Typical comments included: “You use
technology at a young age – do not get a chance to play outside”; “use technology (phones,
iPod etc.) instead of playing outside and being active”; “video games and social media keeping
teens indoors”.
HThe use of technology for leisure can be socially isolating. As one young person pointed out,
“video games making teens unsocial and sitting at home all the time, while social people would
be around with people playing soccer/rugby in the park”. According to another participant,
children are now using their iPads in restaurants, which can also be construed as a form of
unsocial behaviour.
HUse of technology may lead to a loss of sleep, as young people are “staying up late on iPads,
phones and not getting enough sleep”. There may also be implications for mental health and
wellbeing, particularly for younger children. One participant noted that, “technology available
to young kids affects their minds in a very negative way – [their] mental health …”.
HCyberbullying can be perpetrated through social networking sites, such as Facebook.
HFinally, several comments suggest that the use of technology for leisure may be addictive.
 
Children and young people who were involved in the consultation appear to be well informed as to the
general factors that contribute to healthy and unhealthy lifestyles. Their multi-faceted understanding of
health was not limited to physical aspects but also included mental and emotional health.
Children and young people appear well informed about key health messages such as “eating five a day”;
drinking water; avoiding junk food and getting sufficient sleep and exercise. The importance of healthy
eating was a recurring theme. Both children and young people demonstrated knowledge about healthy
food; they identified the importance of fruit and vegetables, drinking water and having a balanced diet, as
well as properties of healthy food – such as vitamins, calcium and iron. In relation to what might help with
healthy lifestyles, participants identified “easy access to health food stores”, fewer fast food restaurants,
and healthier foods in school canteens. Children and young people identified junk food and fast food as
barriers to a healthy lifestyle. Some of the participants were also critical of the perceived higher costs of
DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS
43
healthy foods and the low cost of readymade meals, as well as the lack of education about healthy eating.
They felt that supermarkets should sell fresh fruit and vegetables more cheaply than readymade meals.
For younger children, in particular, parents and families were seen as playing a key role in either promoting
or limiting access to healthy foods. While this was the case for young people, they also highlighted the role
of schools in facilitating poor food practices and cultures.
The children and young people identified a range of physical activities that they associated with a
healthy lifestyle. Specifically, they suggested that children need regular and daily exercise and that
children should be exposed to different types of sports and a variety of activities. Children and young
people mentioned specific facilities that are important for a healthy lifestyle, such as a swimming pool,
playground, pitches, Astroturf, gym, bike parks and cycle lanes, skate parks and grass to play on. Location
was seen as a significant variable when considering young people’s level of engagement; restricted
access to facilities in rural areas was another issue raised.
The findings from these consultation exercises suggest that young people, when asked about healthy
living, are very concerned with issues relating to mental health and emotional wellbeing. A healthy
lifestyle is often associated with having supportive families and friendship groups, a good balance between
school work and leisure, and positive personal attributes (self-esteem, confidence and motivation). In
relation to body image, young people seem to feel under pressure to conform to a particular body image:
to be “skinnier” or (in the case of boys) “bulkier”. This can lead to unhealthy practices.
The influence of home (both positive and negative) on a healthy lifestyle was frequently mentioned by
both the children and young people. Parents are seen as having an important influence on healthy living
because of their central role in buying and preparing food, and in facilitating children’s access to parks,
playgrounds and clubs. Healthy parents were seen as providing a positive example for their children.
School emerged as an important site for promoting as well as inhibiting a healthy lifestyle, particularly for
children and young people. The importance of “healthy school lunches” and “healthy school canteens”
was acknowledged. Participants mentioned a number of key issues, including the importance of receiving
lessons and information from school on healthy living. Negatives issues associated with school and
access to a healthy lifestyle included too much homework, which restricted time for play outside, a
heavy school bag, which made walking to school difficult, not enough teachers or facilities for PE class in
school, strict rules against running or playing on school grounds, and vending machines in schools. PE was
mentioned by several participants as something that promoted a healthy lifestyle, although it was also
criticised for its limited range of activities and for potentially leading to bullying. In particular, it was noted
by young people that few alternatives to team sports were offered during PE classes. In order to facilitate
greater engagement in sport and other forms of exercise, some young people recommended that gym
facilities be made available to young people for free or at a reduced rate.
The children and young people who took part in this consultation process appear to be well informed
regarding the general factors that contribute – negatively and positively – to healthy living.
43
“A wide range of sports
[are] available in big towns/
cities, but fewer facilities are
available in rural areas. ”




5
46
 
The findings of this consultation process with children and young people are in are in line with those of
international studies, which indicate that children’s constructions of health, and their understandings of
the factors that impact on health, are complex (Reeve and Bell, 2009; Oakley et al, 1995) and often go
beyond “narrow, adult, medical constructions of the meaning of health” (Wetton and McWhirter, 1998:
246). There is a growing body of national and international research on children’s perspectives on health
and healthy living. This is partly a response to concerns about childhood obesity levels (WHO, 2015). The
field of personal health carries great social and economic significance, particularly as the cost of treating
obesity and related conditions continues to rise (Reeve and Bell, 2009). Moreover, young people are
now exposed to multiple and sometimes conflicting health messages – from the internet, TV, schools
and health professionals. It is therefore important to understand how they interpret and apply these
messages to their own lives. Recent research also recognises the importance of consulting young people
themselves in the development of health policies and initiatives that affect them (Ott et al, 2011).
This review focuses on three areas of the research literature that are particularly relevant to these
consultations with children and young people on healthy living: children’s perceptions on health and
healthy lifestyles; healthy eating; and exercise.
 

International studies suggest that children’s constructions of health, and their understandings of the
factors that impact on health, are multifaceted. In one US-based study, for example, researchers
found that the range of definitions of “healthy” and “unhealthy” invoked by children was “surprisingly
broad”, encompassing not only illness and proper nutrition, but also environmental health, mental
health, cleanliness and other meanings (Reeve and Bell, 2009: 1953). Earlier UK-based research
(Oakley et al, 1995), which looked at the views of nine and 10 year old children on factors that influence
health, reported that the two largest categories of factors implicated in health were diet and exercise/
sport, followed by hygiene, not smoking and getting enough sleep. A wide range of other health factors
were mentioned, including personal/family resources (for example, having a nice home), community
resources (hospitals), environmental factors (like sun and trees) and accessing healthcare services
(going to the dentist). Factors seen as contributing to ill-health included smoking, diet (such as eating fast
foods), environmental problems and violence. Similarly, research by Wetton and McWhirter (1998) on
primary school children’s views on health found that while food and exercise were the largest categories
of response, children also stressed the social aspects of being healthy – “having a home, having a family
and friends, playing and working hard, as well as environmental health” (1998: 246). Moreover, children’s
understanding of health was not limited to physical aspects but included mental and emotional health.
The authors note that the children’s words and images revealed “the wealth of children’s knowledge”,
which often “matched and went beyond narrow, adult, medical constructions of the meaning of health”
(Wetton and McWhirter, 1998: 246). Similarly research with Hungarian children aged eight to 11 years
found that most participants expressed a complex definition of health, encompassing biomedical and
holistic health concepts. The social dimension of health was evident in some responses, for example
those that included going to school and enjoying the company of friends and classmates. Children
emphasised healthy lifestyles (including playing sports, nutrition and avoidance of harmful habits) as a
means of promoting health and preventing illness.
LITERATURE ON CHILDREN’S PERCEPTIONS OF HEALTHY LIVING
47
While much of the research outlined above was conducted with children aged up to 12 years, a number
of studies have also looked at adolescents’ views on health and health problems. As part of the
development of an Indiana state plan for adolescent health, Ott et al (2011) conducted focus groups with
adolescents to elicit their views on health and the implications for policy. They identified three consistent
aspects of discussion about health.
i. At the individual level, participants identified a range of “common morbidities” and risk
behaviours including (1) obesity, (2) stress and fatigue, (3) alcohol, tobacco, and substance
use, (4) sexual behaviours, sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and adolescent pregnancy,
and (5) violence and personal safety.
ii. At the relationship level, supportive relationships within family, schools and community
members were considered necessary “to initiate and maintain healthy behaviours, and to
create a healthy environment” (2011: 400). All participants spoke of the importance of feeling
valued, having adults encourage their self-worth and having their voice heard.
iii. At the contextual level, participants identified their physical environment (neighbourhoods,
access to green space); financial/resources environment (family income, access to health
care) and informational environment (availability of health information through schools) as
impacting on healthy behaviour.
The findings that emerged from this study illustrate the importance of consulting young people in the
formation of policies that concern them, particularly as certain policy approaches appear to be at
odds with adolescents’ experiences. The authors note, for example, that while policymakers focus on
depression and anxiety as individual pathologies, requiring greater access to treatment, young people
see mental health issues in terms of an interaction between the individual and his or her environment (for
example, stress caused by juggling school and work). According to the authors, “From this perspective,
prevention and treatment need to go beyond individual engagement in mental health services, and
include a focus on healthier environments” (Ott et al, 2011: 402).
Another US-based research study mapped the views of adolescents, parents and healthcare workers
regarding what they considered to be the most important health problems affecting adolescents and
how these might be addressed (Ewan et al, 2016). Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and obesity were
identified as being most important, concerns that were also raised by Ott et al (2011). Although obesity
and STIs are distinct clinical diagnoses, there appeared to be a significant overlap in the ways in which
stakeholders perceived that the two issues could be addressed, for example through education, support
systems and community involvement.
 

A number of studies have explored young people’s views on what constitutes healthy eating, factors that
influence their choice of food, and the barriers and facilitators to healthy eating.
48
5.3.1 Perceptions of what constitutes healthy eating
International research suggests that children and young people are generally well informed about the
health value of different foods, though they are less aware of the importance of having a balanced diet.
Research carried out by McKindley et al (2005) with 106 children in Northern Ireland and England found
that the term “healthy eating” was almost invariably associated with fruit, vegetables and salads, while a
minority mentioned milk and brown bread. Virtually all the focus group participants felt that they could
improve their eating habits and were able to make a number of suggestions on how to achieve this,
including changing cooking methods; cutting down on sweets, takeaway foods and fatty foods; and eating
more fruit and vegetables. There was also some mention of balance and variety, though in the main
children had a tendency to categories foods as being either “good” or “bad”, “healthy” or “unhealthy”.
Stevenson et al’s (2007) research with young people attending second-level schools in Ireland found a
similar dichotomy between “good” and “bad” foods – there appeared to be a limited understanding of the
range of nutritional benefits of different food types.5
More recent research with Irish children and adolescents (Fitzgerald et al, 2010) also found that young
people generally associate “healthy eating” with “fruit” and “vegetables”, though they also mentioned
“organic food”, “carbohydrates”, “vitamins” and, to a lesser extent, “water”, “wholegrain cereals” and
“the right amount of carbohydrates and fat”. Fruits and vegetables were the most commonly mentioned
healthy foods in focus groups with American adolescents (Croll et al, 2001: 195). Other foods considered
healthy were salad; carbohydrate-rich foods (especially rice, pasta and bread); lean meats (particularly
baked chicken and turkey); and tofu. The authors note that almost no one included milk in their
description of healthy foods, and low-fat and fat-free foods were mentioned infrequently. By contrast,
research carried out with parents and children in three Australian schools (Hesketh et al, 2005) found
that while children were generally able to identify healthy and unhealthy foods, there were also some
confusion and “myths” about the nutritional value of certain foods. For example, some children believed
that products labelled “diet” were healthy, and that foods derived from natural products were healthy
regardless of the content of the final product. The authors attribute this to a number of contradictions
in the messages children are receiving, which create confusion and may hinder children’s ability to make
healthy lifestyle decisions. The authors conclude that there is a need for consistency in both explicit and
implicit healthy lifestyle messages children receive with regards to food and activity choice.
5.3.2 Importance of healthy eating
A number of international studies indicate that young people, particularly adolescents, are aware of the
benefits of healthy eating. In the Fitzgerald et al (2010) study, for example, children and adolescents
discussed the short-term consequences of healthy eating and included reasons such as “good for
energy”, “strength”, “it’s good for your skin” and “helps you move quicker”. Specific benefits mentioned
by American teenagers were healthy growth and energy, with a few mentioning long-term benefits such
as the prevention of heart disease (Croll et al, 2001). Young people’s understanding of the connection
between diet and heart problems is also evident in research by Dixey et al (2001) with nine to 11 year olds
in England. However, research also suggests that young people do not necessarily see healthy eating
as being a priority in their own lives. The majority of students in Croll et al’s (2001) study, for example,
indicated that healthy eating was not important to them; this was “summarized as ‘I don’t really care
5 This was an all-island study, encompassing Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
LITERATURE ON CHILDREN’S PERCEPTIONS OF HEALTHY LIVING
49
what I eat right now’” (cited in Croll et al, 2001: 196). Similarly, two of the key messages to emerge from a
systematic review of the international literature on healthy eating were that “children do not see it as their
role to be interested in health” and that “children do not see messages about future health as personally
relevant or credible” (Thomas et al, 2003). The authors conclude that promoting fruits and vegetables on
health grounds alone may have little currency among children (Thomas et al, 2003).
Children’s lack of engagement with healthy eating is also evident in research on children’s food choices,
discussed below.
5.3.3 Factors that influence food choice
Studies on eating behaviour consistently show that knowledge about nutrition and healthy eating does
not always translate into healthy eating behaviour (Brown, McIlveen and Strugnell, 2000; Fitzgerald et
al, 2010; Hesketh et al, 2005; Shepherd et al, 2006; Stevenson et al, 2007; Trew et al, 2005). Personal
preference is a far more powerful determinant of food choice. In focus groups conducted with young
people in Ireland, for example, Stevenson et al (2007: 422) found that while participants had a good
knowledge of what is healthy, knowledge of nutrition was not the central motivation for food choice.
Other research with Irish children and adolescents also found that food preferences (as opposed to
perceived nutritional value) were consistently identified as a major influence on food choices (Fitzgerald,
2010). Taste, texture and appearance were the three main factors when making decisions. Most young
people reported a marked preference for unhealthy food, despite demonstrating a clear understanding
of what it means to eat healthily (Fitzgerald, 2010: 293).
Parents are another important influence on food choices and eating habits. Many of the young people
in the Fitzgerald et al study (2010), for example, reported that their food choices were limited during
family mealtimes, as the food that was made available at meals was what they ate. It also appeared from
the data that teenagers consumed less healthy foods outside of the home, when eating with peers or
at school – situations in which they clearly had greater autonomy over food choice. Similarly, Shepherd
et al (2006), in a review of international literature on healthy eating, reported that healthy foods were
predominantly associated with parent/adults and the home, while “fast food” was associated with
“pleasure, friendship and social environments” (2006: 248). The young people in Croll et al’s study
also tended to discuss foods in situational terms – healthy eating and foods were often mentioned “in
connection with family members, especially parents or older relatives, and less with friends and other
social situations” (2001: 195).
While personal preference and parents/family are consistently identified in the research as key
determinants of food choice, a range of other personal and socio-environmental factors have also been
reported. In one US-based study, for example, teenagers discussed a variety of influences on food choice
including: appeal of food, time considerations of adolescents and parents, parental influence on eating
behaviours (including the culture or religion of the family), convenience of food, food availability, benefits
of foods (including health), mood, body image, habit, cost and media influences (Neumark-Sztainer et al,
1999). Another study with young people (12–17 years) across Ireland found that, while food preference
was a primary determinant of food choice, perceived body image and weight concerns also influenced
choice, particularly among girls and respondents who identified as overweight (Trew et al, 2005).6
6 This was an all-island study, encompassing Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
50
McKindley et al (2005) also found that the deep concern that some young people had about weight
control led them to make unhealthy choices, including throwing away or giving away their school lunches.
Reflecting this wide range of influences on food choice, Story and Neumark-Sztainer (2002) developed
a conceptual model in which adolescent eating behaviour is understood as a function of individual and
environmental factors. Four levels of influence on food choice are identified:
i. individual or intrapersonal influences (such as psychosocial, biological);
ii. social environmental or interpersonal (such as family and peers);
iii. physical environmental or community settings (such as school food environment); and
iv. macrosystem or societal (such as mass media, marketing and advertising, social norms).
The multiplicity of factors influencing eating behaviours suggests that health promotion interventions
need to go beyond the personal level to address these wider influences.
5.3.4 Barriers and facilitators to healthy eating
The barriers to healthy eating identified in various studies with young people were notably consistent.
They included: a lack of choice and poor availability of healthy meals at school (Hesketh et al, 2005;
McKindley et al, 2005; Shepherd et al, 2006); healthy foods sometimes being more expensive (McKindley
et al; Shepherd et al, 2006); wide availability of fast foods (Shepherd et al, 2006); taste preferences for
fast foods (Fitzgerald, 2010; Stevenson et al, 2007); unhealthy food being well packaged and promoted
(Hesketh et al, 2005; McKindley et al, 2005); perceived blandness or unpleasant taste of healthy foods
(Stevenson et al, 2007); the use of snacks and fast foods as “treats” by parents, teachers and other
adults (Stevenson et al, 2007); a lack of sense of urgency about personal health in relation to other
concerns (Neumark-Sztainer et al, 1999); and contradictory and inconsistent messages and social
pressures (Hesketh et al, 2005; Stevenson et al, 2007). In light of these findings, health promotion
specialists appear to have “a major challenge ahead in order to encourage this age group to view healthy
eating as an attractive and achievable behaviour” (McKindley et al, 2005: 542).
Changes that young people have suggested would facilitate healthy eating include reducing the price
of healthy snacks, better availability of healthy foods at school, at takeaways and in vending machines,
the provision of information on the nutritional content of school meals and better food labelling in
general (Shepherd et al, 2006). In the same study, willpower and encouragement from the family were
commonly mentioned support mechanisms for healthy eating, while teachers and peers were the least
commonly cited sources of information on nutrition. The authors conclude that increasing the provision
and range of healthy, affordable snacks and meals in schools and social spaces will facilitate the choice
of “healthier, tasty options” (Shepherd et al, 2006: 255). Similarly, in a study by Neumark-Sztainer et al
(1999: 937), young people’s suggestions for promoting healthy eating included “making healthful food
taste and look better, limiting the availability of unhealthy options, making healthful food more available
and convenient, teaching children good eating habits at an early age, and changing social norms to make
it ‘cool’ to eat healthily”.
LITERATURE ON CHILDREN’S PERCEPTIONS OF HEALTHY LIVING
51
 
Aspects of the local environment can discourage children’s physical activity. Research conducted by
Hesketh et al (2005) found that safety concerns and the increasing distances between children’s homes
and schools were significant barriers to physical activity. Other obstacles included “distractions” within
the home (such as televisions and computers), small backyards and reduced time for physical activity at
school. Young people also find aspects of public open spaces to be off-putting, including the presence of
groups of teenagers in parks, a lack of variety between different playgrounds, and playground equipment
that is “uninteresting, not challenging enough, and primarily designed for younger children” (Veitch et al,
2007: 414).
Research on the relationship between playground characteristics and child activity levels within a school
setting suggests that changes such as the provision of loose equipment, painting of court and play-line
markings, as well as increased teacher presence on the playground, are likely to provide opportunities for
increased physical activity (Willenberg et al, 2010). On the other hand, school-based physical education
(PE) classes may be experienced as challenging for children who are overweight as they feel they are
under surveillance and may be teased or bullied (Curtis, 2008: 413).
 
HChildren’s constructions of health are multifaceted and encompass not only physical aspects
but also mental and emotional health.
HChildren and young people are generally well informed about the health value of different
foods, though they are less familiar with the concept of a balanced diet. Fruits and vegetables
were the most commonly mentioned healthy foods in the literature reviewed.
HKnowledge about health and nutrition does not always translate into healthy eating; therefore,
promoting foods on health grounds alone may have limited effect.
HThe multiplicity of factors influencing eating behaviours (including personal preference,
family, peers, availability, cost, convenience and advertising) suggests that health promotion
interventions need to go beyond the personal level, where they are often focused, to address
wider influences on food choice and eating behaviour.
HKey barriers to healthy eating include lack of choice and poor availability of healthy meals;
prohibitive costs of healthy food, wide availability of and taste preference for fast foods;
adults’ use of snacks and fast foods as “treats”; and a lack of a sense of urgency among young
people about their personal health.
HHealthy eating should be promoted by making healthy foods more affordable, appealing and
accessible, particularly in schools and social spaces where young people meet.
HIncreased physical activity should be encouraged by addressing barriers to participation in
the local environment and by providing more varied and appealing playgrounds for children.
HIt is important to consult young people in the formation of health policies that concern them,
particularly as certain policy approaches appear to be at odds with young people’s own
experiences.
“Playing in
playgrounds can
help with a
healthy lifestyle.”

54
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Dublin: Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
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for state health policy’, Journal of Adolescent Health, 48: 398–403.
Piko, B. F. and Bak, J. (2006) ‘Children’s perceptions of health and illness: Images and lay concepts in
preadolescence’, Health Education Research, 21(5): 643–653.
Reeve, S. and Bell, P. (2009) ‘Children’s self-documentation and understanding of the concepts ‘healthy’
and ‘unhealthy’, International Journal of Science Education, 31(14): 1953–1974.
Shepherd, J., Harden, A., Rees, R., Garcia, J., Oliver, S. and Oakley, A. (2006) ‘Young people and healthy
eating: A systematic review of research on barriers and facilitators’, Health Education Research,
21(2): 239–257.
Stevenson, C., Doherty, G., Barnett, J., Muldoon, O. and Trew, K. (2007) ‘Adolescents’ views of food and
eating: Identifying barriers to healthy eating’, Journal of Adolescence, 30: 417–434.
REFERENCES
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Story, M., Neumark-Sztainer, D. and French, S. (2002) ‘Individual and environmental influences on
adolescent eating behaviours’, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 102(3): 40–51.
The Children’s Society (2012) The Good Childhood Report 2012: A Review of our Children’s, London: The
Children’s Society.
Theis, J. (2010) ‘Children as active citizens: An agenda for children’s civil rights and civic engagement’,
in B. Percy-Smith, and N. Thomas (eds.), A Handbook of Children and Young People’s Participation:
Perspectives from theory and practice, London: Routledge Taylor Francis Group.
Thomas J., Sutcliffe K., Harden A., Oakley A., Oliver S., Rees R., Brunton G. and Kavanagh J. (2003) Children
and Healthy Eating: A Systematic Review of Barriers and Facilitators, London: EPPI-Centre, Social
Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London.
Trew, K., Barnett, J., Stevenson, C., Muldoon, O., Breakwell, G., Brown, K., Doherty, G. and Clark, C. (2005)
Young People and Food: Adolescent Dietary Beliefs and Understandings, Dublin: safefood.
Wetton, N. and McWhirter, J. (1998) ‘Images and curriculum development in health education’, in J.
Prosser (ed.), Image-based Research: A Sourcebook for Qualitative Researchers, London: Falmer.
Wienand, A. (2006) An Evaluation of Body Mapping as a Potential HIV/AIDS Educational Tool: Cape
Town, University of Cape Town, Centre for Social Science Research, ASR.
Willenberg, L. J., Ashbolt, R., Holland, D., Gibbs, L., MacDougall, C., Garrard, J., Green, J.B. and Waters, E. (2010)
‘Increasing school playground physical activity: A mixed methods study combining environmental
measures and children’s perspectives’, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 13: 210–216.
WHO (World Health Organization) (2015) WHO Modelling Obesity Project (Unpublished presentation,
European Congress on Obesity 2015, Prague.
Veitch, J., Salmon, J. and Ball, K. (2007) Children’s perceptions of the use of public open spaces for active
free-play, Child Geographies, 5: 409–422.
“Schoolwork takes up
time, [you’re] not able to find
time for sports clubs or to make
healthy food for yourself.”

58

ASSENT FORM
For participation in the
Healthy Lifestyles Consultation
This assent form covers the consultation being held on:
About the consultation: This consultation is one of a number of consultations with children and young people from all around
Ireland on the theme of ‘healthy lifestyles’. The purpose of this consultation is to get your views about the types of things that
help to have a healthy lifestyle, the obstacles to having a healthy lifestyle and the solutions to these obstacles.
What will happen to the views of participants? The consultation will contribute to the National Obesity Strategy, which is
the responsibility of the Department of Health under the Healthy Ireland framework. Healthy Ireland is our national framework
for action to improve the health and wellbeing of the people of Ireland.
Please read the enclosed information sheet about this consultation.
DETAILS OF CHILD/YOUNG PERSON
Name of child/young person:
Address of child/young person:
Date of birth of child/young person: Age:
Contact phone number for child/young person:
Girl Boy (tick as appropriate)
Other relevant information (please mention any medical conditions, special needs or dietary requirements):
Please read and tick the following:
I agree or assent to take part in the Healthy Lifestyle Consultation.
I agree that photographs, digital images and/or video recordings of me can be used in news releases and/or educational materials
as follows: printed publications or materials, posters, brochures, electronic publications or websites.
I have read and understand the information sheet.
I agree that my name and identity may be used in media image(s).
I understand that all information gathered will be kept private unless I am in danger.
Signed: Date:
APPENDIX 1: ASSENT FORM AND CONSENT FORM
59
CONSENT FORM
For participation
in the Healthy Lifestyles Consultation
This assent form covers the consultation being held on:
About the consultation: This consultation is one of a number of consultations with children and young people from all around Ireland
on the theme of ‘healthy lifestyles’. The purpose of this consultation is to get the views of children and young people about the types
of things that help to have a healthy lifestyle, the obstacles to having a healthy lifestyle and the solutions to these obstacles.
What will happen to the views of participants? The consultation will contribute to the National Obesity Strategy, which is the
responsibility of the Department of Health under the Healthy Ireland framework. Healthy Ireland is our national framework for
action to improve the health and wellbeing of the people of Ireland.
Please read the enclosed information sheet about this consultation.
DETAILS OF CHILD/YOUNG PERSON
Name of child/young person:
Address of child/young person:
Date of birth of child/young person: Age:
Contact phone number for child/young person:
Girl Boy (tick as appropriate)
Other relevant information (please mention any medical conditions, special needs or dietary requirements):
DETAILS OF PARENT/GUARDIAN/CARE WORKER
Name of parent/Guardian/Care Worker:
Relationship to young person:
Address:
Contact phone number for child/young person:
In case of emergency, please contact (if different from above):
If the child or young person is being collected by somebody different than above, please give details:
Name, address and phone number for young person’s doctor:
Please read and tick the following:
I give permission for the young person named above to travel to and attend the Healthy Lifestyle Consultation on the above date. I understand
that there will be suitable supervision for the event and that those attending will not have permission to leave the premises during the event,
without prior arrangement.
I understand that the DCYA will only take responsibility for the young person named above from the time of arrival at the meeting, up to the time
of departure from the meeting. No responsibility will be taken during the process of travelling to and from meetings, or outside of meetings/events.
I understand that all information gathered will be kept private unless I am in danger.
I give permission for the young person to be contacted by the Participation Team via mobile phone, text and/or email.
I have read and understand the information sheet about the consultation.
Signed: (parent/guardian/care worker)
Signed: (child/young person)
Date:

HHang the bodymap from the previous section on the flipchart stand
at your table.
HQ. How can we make this child healthier?
HPlacemat is divided into three sections – answer above question in relation
to each section:
»At home
»At school
»In your area.
HSticky dot vote
HEach child gets three sticky dots per section.
HRemind children to vote for the most important things that are written
in each section.
HEvaluation

HWork at table or on the floor for this session.
HEach table gets Fabriano paper.
HAsk group for one volunteer from the group to help make outline of a child
on Fabriano paper.
HQ: What are the things that make this child healthy?
60

Primary school children consultation
This consultation took place in Woodquay centre, Dublin on 11th November 2015, beginning at 11am and concluding at 2.30pm.
The children were accompanied by a teacher from their primary school.

Participants can write or draw anywhere, using relevant coloured marker.
HDivided into two sections for those under 13 years (0–5 and 6–12 years)
»What helps with a healthy lifestyle? (Green marker)
»What are the obstacles to a healthy lifestyle? (Red marker)
HWhen lifeline/river is completed, have group discussion on the main
topics/themes.
HSticky dot vote on lifelines (both the ‘what helps’ and ‘obstacles’) –
six sticky dots per person.
HWrite up the top two topics/themes onto A4 cards – make sure to give a
clear indication of the point being made by young people (i.e. exactly what
aspect the topic/theme refers to from the discussion at that lifeline).
HVOTING Cards are displayed on a wall at the voting station.
HEach table is brought up to the wall to view the cards and vote – each child
gets three orange voting cards.

Five Topic Zones (may need to combine topics): Each group works on a different
topic to begin with (but ensuring that they work on a topic they identified in the
first session).
HStep one: Participants start from inner circle.
»Q1: Give more details about X?
HStep two: Circle ‘What’s working’ in blue marker.
»Circle ‘What’s not working?’ in red marker (number them).
HStep three: Participants move to the outer circle
»Q2: Why are these things not working/working? (Link with numbers
from Q1 and colours)
HStep four: Participants move to the circles at the edge:
» Q3: What other ideas do you have that might help to improve
healthy lifestyles?
30 minutes at first topic zone
10–15 minutes at each additional topic zone.
APPENDIX 2: GUIDANCE FOR FACILITATORS
61
Consultation with young people from Comhairle na nÓg
This consultation took place in Dublin on 29th October 2015, beginning at 11.30am and concluding at 3pm.

Participants can write or draw anywhere, using relevant coloured marker.
HWhat helps with a healthy lifestyle? (Green marker)
HWhat are the obstacles to a healthy lifestyle? (Red marker)
HDivided into two sections for those under 13 years (0–5 and 6–12 years)
HDivided into three sections for 13–17 year olds (0–5, 6–12 and 13–17 years)
HWhen lifeline/river is completed, have a group discussion on the main topics/themes.
HSticky dot vote – three sticky dots per person per section.
Write up the top two topics/themes onto A4 cards – make sure to give a clear indication of the
point being made by young people (i.e. exactly what aspect the topic/theme refers to from the
discussion at that lifeline).
Cards are displayed on a wall – group identify any duplication of themes.
For the next session, groups work on a topic they identified in their own lifeline.

HTop two topics on why it is working
HAll participants vote on their original placemat
HAll participants vote on next two placemats.

HBallot box voting on 10 – ‘why it is working’
(three votes)
HVote on new ideas – if enough are suggested
(three votes)
HEvaluation
62

Table 8: What contributes to a healthy lifestyle? Views of children (8–12 years)
0–5 YEARS COUNT 6–12 YEARS COUNT
FOOD AND EATING Healthy diet; eat less junk food, sweets,
fizzy drinks and processed food. Eat fruit
and vegetables; “five a day”; water and
dairy products.
106 Healthy diet; eat less junk food, sweets,
fizzy drinks and processed food. Eat fruit
and vegetables; water and dairy products.
116
EXERCISE, SPORT,
PLAYING
Exercise, activity, sports – walking,
running, cycling, playground or park.
55 Exercise, activity, sports –
swimming; running; football, playing
outside.
134
OTHER ACTIVITIES Reading, colouring or drawing, having fun,
music.
10
Reading; listening to music; puzzles for
mental development; after-school activities.
8
SLEEP 20 8
RELATIONSHIPS/
CARE/LOVE/PEERS
Family, parents, siblings, cousin; friends;
love and care.
17 Family, parents, siblings; friends; Love,
encouragement, someone to talk to.
15
SCHOOL Going to school; playschool; crèche;
longer school playtime good environment
in school; PE.
8 School, teachers, learning; more and
longer PE in school.
8
SCREEN TIME
Less TV, don’t stay inside, [less] screen time.
7
SAFETY Keeping children safe, feeling safe. 7 Feeling safe. 2
HEALTHCARE Doctors; nurses; vaccination. 4 0
EDUCATIONAL TOYS 4 0
PERSONAL
ATTRIBUTES/
MENTAL HEALTH
Confidence; imagination; having fun;
relaxing; treat yourself.
7
Positive thinking; confidence; good mental
health; being calm, relaxed and well
centred, stress free.
10
PERSONAL HYGIENE Staying clean, brushing teeth. 4 Washing, brushing teeth etc. 7
OUTDOOR
ENVIRONMENT
Fresh air; outdoors. 4 Outdoors, fresh air; healthy environment. 4
MONEY 0 Money. 2
LEARNING TO
WALK/CRAWL
6 0
MISCELLANEOUS Cartoons; energy; healthy skin; healthy
hair; good people; shops; “small
independence”.
10 Cartoons. 2
APPENDIX 3: TABULATED RAW DATA FROM THE CONSULTATIONS
63
Table 9: What are obstacles to a healthy lifestyle? Views of children (8–12 years)
0–5 YEARS COUNT 6–12 YEARS COUNT
FOOD AND EATING Eating junk food, sweets, fizzy drinks;
eating too much; not eating enough; not
having a balanced diet.
92
Unhealthy diet; dieting; not eating breakfast.
88
SCREEN TIME
AND SEDENTARY
LIFESTYLES
Not doing sports or exercise; watching
television, video games, computers,
phones, iPad; staying indoors.
54 Not doing sports or exercise; television,
video games, computers, phones; staying
indoors.
66
SLEEP Not getting enough sleep; sleeping late;
sleeping during day.
14 Not getting enough sleep, staying up late;
sleeping late; sleeping during the day.
12
SCHOOL Not going to school; heavy bag; too much
homework.
8
Homework; not enough teachers or facilities.
8
HYGIENE Not washing teeth, keeping clean. 3 Not washing teeth. 1
RELATIONSHIPS/
LACK OF CARE AND
LOVE/PEERS
Parents not caring, not listening, giving
unhealthy foods; siblings bad influence;
not meeting other children.
17
No friends; friends are unhealthy; not being
happy at home; no one listening to the child
if they have a problem or are worried.
7
EMOTIONAL
WELLBEING
Not being happy. 5 Sad; lonely; not having fun;
discouragement; stress.
5
SMOKING AND DRUGS Smoking; smoking parent; weed; drugs. 8 Smoking; being around smoking adults;
drinking; drugs.
15
ENVIRONMENT
AND WEATHER
Noise; littering; where you live; no
facilities; unhealthy environment; bad
weather; not getting outside.
13 Noise pollution; cars always park up on
cycle paths; playgrounds being destroyed;
not allowed to play; bad environment;
littering; bad weather; not getting outside.
12
BULLYING 1 7
LACK OF ESSENTIALS Homelessness; no money; no food. 4
64
Table 10: What helps with a healthy lifestyle? Views of young people (13–17 years)
TOPICS 0–5 YEARS COUNT 6–12 YEARS COUNT 13–17 YEARS COUNT
PARENTS,
FAMILY
Caring and nurturing
parents; parents choosing
food for you; copying
siblings; pets.
17 Parents choosing food;
family support;
encouragement and
motivation.
6 Family influence, family
support.
5
SCHOOL School and playschool;
learning to read and write;
PE.
5
Healthy lunch; Food Dudes;
ban sweets and fizzy drinks in
school; make PE enjoyable;
supportive teachers; SPHE.
12
School talk, teachers;
Healthy school canteens;
varied PE classes – enjoyable
for all types of people.
8
FOOD Calcium, milk, water, fruit;
less access to junk food;
Food Dudes.
7 Being less preoccupied with
weight and the way you eat.
1 Easy access to health food
stores.
1
SLEEP 1 0 Getting enough sleep. 2
SAFETY Protected; away from
violence.
3 Being safe from strangers. 1 0
NON-SPORT
CLUBS AND
ACTIVITIES
Join clubs and fun activities.
2 Social clubs like Scouts and
Foróige; music.
4 Social clubs and hobbies;
Foróige, disco/dancing;
keeping active.
7
TECHNOLOGY Less access to electronic
devices and TV at this age.
3 Lack of social media –
parents should control that.
1 0
OUTDOOR PLAY/
ENVIRONMENT
Play outside more at
this age.
6 Road safety; playgrounds
and parks.
3 Environment; active
community.
2
PEERS/FRIENDS 1 Positive peer pressure from
friends.
3 Peer influence (if they lead
a healthy lifestyle);
cheaper to get junk food
with friends.
5
BODY IMAGE Promoting healthy, realistic
bodies, not airbrushed, “fake”
ones.
1 Keep healthy to look and
feel better; status and
social expectation.
4
HYGIENE 0 Hygiene. 1
MEDIA/ TELLY /
INTERNET
0 Media, TV, internet.
Advertising targeted at
children; usually [involving]
sugary foods.
2 Social media, internet, TV. 2
SPORTS AND
CLUBS
0 Getting involved in sports
and clubs.
6 Sport clubs – need to eat
healthy [food] and keep fit
to be on team or pursue a
sports career.
6
PRACTICAL
EDUCATION
0 Practical education on
healthy eating and exercise
such as how to choose
healthy options for food.
8 Practical education on
more than just sport –
cooking, walking; education
about obesity.
2
GYMS 0 Cheap/free gyms. 4
POSITIVE
MENTAL
HEALTH
0 0 Laughter and jokes;
encouragement,
confidence and happiness.
5
APPENDIX 3: TABULATED RAW DATA FROM THE CONSULTATIONS
65
Table 11: What are the obstacles to a healthy lifestyle? Views of young people (13–17 years)
TOPICS 0–5 YEARS COUNT 6–12 YEARS COUNT 13–17 YEARS COUNT
FOOD Parents choose what
kids eat. Refuse to eat
vegetables. Spoiled at
parties. No proper food,
water and shelter.
6 Unhealthy diet: Junk food
and sweets, fizzy drinks.
Healthy food is more
expensive.
5
Fast food/More choices of
junk food available/binge
eating/craving, binge eating.
Your choice to spend your
money on food/sweets.
Healthy food is more
expensive.
7
SLEEP 0 0 Sleep and technology –
staying up late on iPad
or phone.
1
SAFETY Bad environment/Unsafe
surrounding.
2 0 0
TECHNOLOGY You use technology at a
young age – do not get a
chance to play outside.
5 Technology/ TV available
to young kids affects their
minds in a very negative
way – mental health and
they aren’t as active. Cyber
bullying. Inhibit exercise –
instead of playing outside
and being active.
8
Addiction to technology/
Video games and social
media keeping teens
indoors. Video games
making teens unsocial,
sitting at home all the time,
while social people would be
around with people playing
soccer/rugby in the park.
PEERS/FRIENDS Peers/Not mixing with
others to build social skills.
2 Friends influence/peer
pressure – drinking culture.
7 Peer pressure/gossip. 6
BODY IMAGE 0 Body image (bullying) –
leading to unsafe dieting.
3
Body image – starving
themselves making them
extremely unhealthy.
Magazines/social media/
models/celebrities
(Photoshopped)/people
want the “perfect” body but
it is unrealistic (taking protein
shakes to become bulky).
Expectations of society –
image of being skinny.
10
EATING
DISORDERS
0 0 Dieting and excessive
dieting, crash diets, bulimia,
anorexia.
2
BECOMING
RESPONSIBLE
FOR OWN CARE
0 0 Expected to take care of
themselves; no routine on
school holidays.
3
MEDIA/TELLY/
INTERNET
Advertising. 1 Media and advertising. 2
Social networks like Facebook.
2
SPORTS AND
CLUBS
Can’t join sports clubs. 1 Forced to do sport and
then dropout due to lack of
interest.
1 Forced to do sport; nothing
to do if you are not into
team sports; finding sports
boring – same routine.
3
PRACTICAL
EDUCATION
0 Not being very educated
about obesity. “You have
a stigma against healthy
food.”
2 Not being educated on
healthy eating; exercise
being done but no healthy
eating being addressed.
3
continued
66
TOPICS 0–5 YEARS COUNT 6–12 YEARS COUNT 13–17 YEARS COUNT
MENTAL
HEALTH
Your parents do not treat
you well; affects mental
health.
1 Depression, being mentally
un-stabilised (due to stress,
school or home), leading to
substance abuse or suicidal
thoughts.
3
SMOKING/
ALCOHOL AND
DRUGS
Parents smoking and
drinking; mother abusing
substances during
pregnancy.
2 Parents smoking or drinking
excessively – bad example.
2 Friends’ influence, peer
pressure and a drinking
culture. Binge drinking
affects physical and
mental health. Exposure to
smoking and drugs
5
TOYS Lack of money to buy
educational toys.
1 0 0
BULLYING 0 Bullying affects mental
and physical health; feeling
worthless.
4 Bullying in sports clubs and
PE class; bullying decreases
confidence.
5
ACCESS TO
FACILITIES /
GYMS
0 Rural area – access to
facilities.
1 Having to pay to exercise
(e.g. gym membership);
lack of nearby facilities
available.
3
PHYSICAL
HEALTH AND
DISABILITIES
0 Physical health; for
example, illness, physical
disabilities, mobility issues
– obesity.
2 0
67
68
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Research
Adolescence is a critical time for the development of youth mental health. This literature review draws from research literature on youth mental health, and data from services in Ireland and Northern Ireland. We identify some key messages about emerging trends in youth mental health in Ireland and Northern Ireland which are relevant to frontline practitioners working with children and young people, such as teachers, social workers and youth workers. We also highlight some findings from research on effective approaches, and implications for frontline practice.
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The present paper describes a study in which 13 children aged 9–11 years, of diverse ethnic, linguistic, and socio-economic backgrounds, were asked to use a digital camera and small notebook to document the range of things they consider to be healthy and unhealthy. Using open-ended interview questions, the children were then asked to explain each item, including what it was, why they chose it, and why they thought it was either healthy or unhealthy. The range of definitions of ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ invoked by the children was surprisingly broad, encompassing not only illness and proper nutrition, but also environmental health, mental health, cleanliness, and other meanings. Findings across all 13 children are displayed, and a case study of one child serves as a detailed example of the types of meanings children ascribe to the words ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’, as well as the kinds of analyses being employed on these data. The theoretical implications of these results for research on children’s ideas about health, as well as implications for the design of health interventions, are discussed.
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To collect information from children and young people about their knowledge of and attitudes towards cancer and their understanding of health and health related behaviours to inform future health promotion work. Questionnaire survey of 15-16 year olds, and interviews with play materials with 9-10 year old children. Six inner city, suburban, and rural schools. 226 children aged 15-16 years and 100 aged 9-10 years. Knowledge about different types of cancer; beliefs about health; sources of information; quality of research data obtainable from young children about cancer and health. Both samples knew most about lung cancer, but there was also some knowledge of breast and skin cancer and leukaemia. Smoking, together with pollution and other environmental factors, were seen as the dominant causes of cancer. Environmental factors were mentioned more often by the inner city samples. Television and the media were the most important sources of information. Young people were more worried about unemployment than about ill health. More than half the young people did not describe their health as good, and most said they did not have a healthy lifestyle. Children were able to provide detailed information about their knowledge and understanding by using drawings as well as interviews. Children and young people possess considerable knowledge about cancer, especially about lung cancer and smoking, and show considerable awareness of predominant health education messages. Despite this knowledge, many lead less than healthy lifestyles. Health is not seen as the most important goal in life by many young people; the circumstances in which many children and young people live are not experienced as health promoting.
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Purpose: Health research that includes youth and family stakeholders increases the contextual relevance of findings, which can benefit both the researchers and stakeholders involved. The goal of this study was to identify youth and family adolescent health priorities and to explore strategies to address these concerns. Methods: Stakeholders identified important adolescent health concerns, perceptions of which were then explored using concept mapping. Concept mapping is a mixed-method participatory research approach that invites input from various stakeholders. In response to prompts, stakeholders suggested ways to address the identified health conditions. Adolescent participants then sorted the statements into groups based on content similarity and rated the statements for importance and feasibility. Multidimensional scaling and cluster analysis were then applied to create the concept maps. Results: Stakeholders identified sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and obesity as the health conditions they considered most important. The concept map for STIs identified 7 clusters: General sex education, support and empowerment, testing and treatment, community involvement and awareness, prevention and protection, parental involvement in sex education, and media. The obesity concept map portrayed 8 clusters: Healthy food choices, obesity education, support systems, clinical and community involvement, community support for exercise, physical activity, nutrition support, and nutrition education. Ratings were generally higher for importance than for feasibility. Conclusions: The concept maps demonstrate stakeholder-driven ideas about approaches to target STIs and obesity in this context. Strategies at multiple social ecological levels were emphasized. The concept maps can be used to generate discussion regarding these topics and to identify interventions.
Article
Purpose Health research that includes youth and family stakeholders increases the contextual relevance of findings, which can benefit both the researchers and stakeholders involved. The goal of this study was to identify youth and family adolescent health priorities and to explore strategies to address these concerns. Methods Stakeholders identified important adolescent health concerns, perceptions of which were then explored using concept mapping. Concept mapping is a mixed-method participatory research approach that invites input from various stakeholders. In response to prompts, stakeholders suggested ways to address the identified health conditions. Adolescent participants then sorted the statements into groups based on content similarity and rated the statements for importance and feasibility. Multidimensional scaling and cluster analysis were then applied to create the concept maps. Results Stakeholders identified sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and obesity as the health conditions they considered most important. The concept map for STIs identified 7 clusters: General sex education, support and empowerment, testing and treatment, community involvement and awareness, prevention and protection, parental involvement in sex education, and media. The obesity concept map portrayed 8 clusters: Healthy food choices, obesity education, support systems, clinical and community involvement, community support for exercise, physical activity, nutrition support, and nutrition education. Ratings were generally higher for importance than for feasibility. Conclusions The concept maps demonstrate stakeholder-driven ideas about approaches to target STIs and obesity in this context. Strategies at multiple social ecological levels were emphasized. The concept maps can be used to generate discussion regarding these topics and to identify interventions.
Article
The aim of this project was to gain insight into children's understanding of healthy eating, and to explore the barriers and facilitating factors for dietary behaviour change in children. The ‘Apples’ project is concerned with obesity prevention, and an understanding of children's perceptions of healthy eating, fatness and thinness are vital in order for school-based programmes to be appropriately designed and delivered. This paper presents data from focus groups with 300 children (aged 9–11 years) in 10 schools in Leeds, England, carried out in June 1998. Analysis of the transcripts shows that children understood the concept of a balanced diet as described by the Health Education Authority's ‘Balance of Good Health’ model. They were also aware of the relationship between their diet and health, both present and future. ‘Fat’ played a prominent role, with a healthy diet being one that did not contain too much fat. Moreover, they considered that it was fat that caused heart problems, the key consequence of not eating healthily. It was also important for social reasons not to be too fat, although children were also very aware of the health implications of being too thin, and of eating disorders. Children used a number of strategies to take control of their own eating, and the conclusions for nutrition education programmes in schools are that children need to be seen as more active participants in their own health education, and that help is needed to resist the pressures to be a socially desirable body weight.
Article
The need for effective nutritional education for young consumers has become increasingly apparent given their general food habits and behaviour, particularly during adolescence. Aims to analyse the interaction between young consumers’ food preferences and their nutritional awareness behaviour, within three environments (home, school and social). Preliminary findings in this study would indicate that the perceived dominance of this home, school and social interaction appears to be somewhat overshadowed by the young consumers, developing “independence” trait, particularly during adolescent years. This appears to be reflected in their food preferences within the associated three environments. Suggests that such food preferences are often of a “fast food”-style and consequently the food habits of many young consumers may fuel the consumption of poor nutritionally balanced meals. While young consumers were aware of healthy eating, their food preference behaviour did not always appear to reflect such knowledge, particularly within the school and social environments.
Article
Activity performed by children in their free-time may have a significant impact on overall physical activity levels, however, very little is known about the influences on children's active free-play. To examine the role and use of public open spaces, 132 children (6–12 years) from a selection of primary schools participated in small focus group interviews. Children reported that their use of public open spaces was influenced by a combination of intrapersonal, social and environmental factors including; the play equipment and facilities at local parks, lack of independent mobility, urban design features, presence of friends, and personal motivation.