Public Health Nutrition

Research Paper

Food poverty and health among schoolchildren in Ireland: findings from the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study

Michal Molchoa1 c1, Saoirse Nic Gabhainna1, Colette Kellya1, Sharon Friela2 and Cecily Kellehera3

a1 Department of Health Promotion, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland

a2 National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University, Dublin, Ireland

a3 UCD School of Public Health and Population Science, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland


Objectives To investigate the relationships between food poverty and food consumption, health and life satisfaction among schoolchildren.

Design Analysis of the 2002 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study, a cross-sectional survey that employs a self-completion questionnaire in a nationally representative random sample of school classrooms in the Republic of Ireland.

Subjects A total of 8424 schoolchildren (aged 10–17 years) from 176 schools, with an 83% response rate from children.

Results Food poverty was found to be similarly distributed among the three social classes (15.3% in the lower social classes, 15.9% in the middle social classes and 14.8% in the higher social classes). It was also found that schoolchildren reporting food poverty are less likely to eat fruits, vegetables and brown bread, odds ratio (OR) from 0.66 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.45–0.87) to 0.81 (95% CI 0.63–0.99); more likely to eat crisps, fried potatoes and hamburgers, OR from 1.20 (95% CI 1.00–1.40) to 1.62 (95% CI 1.39–1.85); and more likely to miss breakfast on weekdays, OR from 1.29 (95% CI 0.33–1.59) to 1.72 (95% CI 1.50–1.95). The risk of somatic and mental symptoms is also increased, OR from 1.48 (95% CI 1.18–1.78) to 2.57 (95% CI 2.33–2.81); as are negative health perceptions, OR from 0.63 (95% CI 0.43–0.83) to 0.52 (95% CI 0.28–0.76) and measures of life dissatisfaction, OR from 1.88 (95% CI 1.64–2.12) to 2.25 (95% CI 2.05–2.45). Similar results were found for life dissatisfaction in an international comparison of 32 countries. All analyses were adjusted for age and social class.

Conclusions Food poverty in schoolchildren is not restricted to those from lower social class families, is associated with a substantial risk to physical and mental health and well-being, and requires the increased attention of policy makers and practitioners.

(Received December 20 2005)

(Accepted June 13 2006)


c1 *Corresponding author: Email