Background: This retrospective cohort study investigates the feasibility of using established methods and routinely generated data from the statutory primary school health-screening programme to estimate prevalence rates for childhood overweight and obesity in children from a rural area in the Republic of Ireland (ROI).
Method: Paper-based records in the primary school health service for County Leitrim and parts of County Cavan in north-west of ROI were hand searched to identify children attending senior infant classes during academic year 2001/2002. Electronic calculation of body mass index (BMI) and age at examination was carried out. Application of age- and sex-specific cut-off points from International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) and United Kingdom (UK) standard definitions for childhood overweight and obesity was used to determine age- and sex-specific prevalence rates for childhood overweight and obesity.
Results: The eligible cohort was almost completely identified and consisted of 361 children. Weight and height measurements were available on 328 (91%) children aged between 4.22 and 7.92 years. IOTF standard application gave prevalence rates of 25% for obesity and overweight in boys and 26% in girls. With the UK growth standard, this increased to 34% in boys and reduced to 23% in girls.
Conclusion: It is feasible to generate prevalence rates for childhood overweight and obesity from data routinely obtained through the statutory school health-screening programme in ROI. This study suggests levels of childhood overweight and obesity comparable to other Western societies. Further research on developing a universally accepted standard definition of childhood overweight and obesity is required.