Press Release

Varadkar launches first Healthy Ireland Survey of the nation’s health

Healty Ireland pict

First national comprehensive survey conducted since 2007

•    Fewer than 1 in 5 people now smoke
•    85% have good health but 28% have a long-standing condition
•    Obesity levelling out but 60% of people still overweight
•    Two thirds of people not getting enough exercise
•    Four out of ten people binge when drinking
•    Most people eat fruit & veg daily but 26% eat recommended 5 portions
•    17% did not use a any form of contraception outside of a steady relationship
•    Almost half the population is in a social club or organisation
•    Good levels of mental health but better among men than women
•    50% of people know someone with dementia

Minister for Health Mr Leo Varadkar has today launched the first national survey of the nation’s health in eight years with the publication of the Healthy Ireland Survey.

The first ever Healthy Ireland Survey of 7,500 people aged 15 and over gives the most up-to-date picture of the health of the nation, including lifestyle factors like smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, diet and mental wellbeing.

Minister Varadkar said: “There have been some positive changes since the SLAN survey in 2007 including a further drop in smoking rates, and the incidence of overweight has actually levelled off, while levels of regular exercise are rising. However, we still face some serious risks to the future health of the nation including alcohol misuse or harmful drinking patterns, and the significant number of people who still do not take enough exercise or who are overweight.

“This survey gives us some really useful information and will be repeated every year. What you don’t measure, you can’t improve. It will feed into new policies on obesity, sexual health, and physical activity, and further legislation to control tobacco use. And we will shortly publish the Public Health Alcohol Bill. But it’s important to recognise that society as a whole needs to work with the Government to address these issues. And Healthy Ireland provides the perfect framework for that task.”

Some of the other key findings in the Healthy Ireland Survey include:

  • Daily smoking rates have fallen to 19% with more adults now ex-smokers than current smokers
  • 63% of smokers are planning or considering quitting
  • The proportion of the population which is overweight or obese has stabilised but remains high at 60%
  • Only 32% of the population meet the national physical activity recommendations
  • “Being more physically active” was the change most frequently selected by individuals for improving their health and wellbeing
  • 39% of drinkers binge on a typical drinking occasion
  • Only 15% of those drinking at harmful levels recognised that drinking harmed their health

Dr. Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health commented that “We know in Ireland that the number of people experiencing chronic diseases is increasing dramatically. And while we rightly focus on improving the quality and efficiency of the health services needed to care for these patients, we also need to have a greater emphasis on prevention, as we know that the majority of these chronic diseases are preventable. The valuable data coming from this Survey will assist us to more effectively address a range of issues such as overweight and obesity, problematic alcohol consumption, smoking, and physical inactivity.” He also explained that the Survey results will assist the Department of Health and its stakeholders to inform current policy direction and will be used to develop new policy responses from the considerable evidence about health behaviours in Ireland.

The Healthy Ireland Survey was conducted by Ipsos MRBI on behalf of the Department of Health. 7,539 people aged 15 and over from a randomly selected representative sample of households in Ireland were visited between November 2014 and August 2015 and interviewed on a variety of topics including general health, smoking, alcohol, diet and nutrition, physical activity, weight management, social connectedness, wellbeing, dementia and sexual health.

The Survey has also provided evidence about issues such as social connectedness, dementia awareness and wellbeing. Interesting findings in the Healthy Ireland Survey include:

  • 47% of the population participate in a social group
  • 85% of the population report their health as being good or very good but 28% has a long standing disease or health problem
  • 50% of the population know at least one person with dementia
  • Higher levels of positive mental health were recorded among men than women
  • 9% of the population were considered to have probable mental health problems

The publication of the Healthy Ireland Survey provides valuable information on the health, wellbeing and lifestyle behaviours and how these affect people living in Ireland.

In addition to completing the survey questionnaire individuals interviewed were asked to undertake a physical measurement module. Interviewers measured and recorded the respondent’s height, weight and waist circumference. A total of 6,144 respondents (81%) participated in this module.

After completing the survey questionnaire, respondents aged 17 and over were asked to complete a self-completion questionnaire on issues relating to sexual health. A total of 6,529 respondents (87% of those aged 17 and over) participated in this module.

The Survey included a module relating to awareness of dementia as a baseline measure to assist in the implementation of the National Dementia Strategy.

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Note for Editors

Background to survey:
The Healthy Ireland Survey was commissioned by the Department of Health to update data available on a range of health issues since the last major health survey conducted in Ireland, SLÁN 2007.

Following a public tendering process, Ipsos MRBI, the independent research and opinion polling company, was commissioned to conduct an annual Healthy Ireland Survey, for a period of three years, on behalf of the Department of Health.

Significant changes in economic and social circumstances have occurred in Ireland since 2007 and the Healthy Ireland Survey is now providing a robust, credible and timely source of data at a national level on a range of health behaviours. These data will be used to underpin policy development and implementation, as well as to meet many international reporting obligations, including to the OECD, the EU and the WHO.

The Survey findings provide important and valuable information and give a robust data source against which the Department of Health and its stakeholders can monitor, measure and evaluate progress in implementing various elements of the Healthy Ireland Framework and to inform policy, programme support and delivery, and enhance accountability.

Healthy Ireland

The Healthy Ireland Framework is a Government-led initiative which aims to create an Irish society where everyone can enjoy physical and mental health, and where wellbeing is valued and supported at every level of society. Healthy Ireland has come about because of concerns that the current health status of people living in Ireland – including lifestyle trends and health inequalities – is leading us towards a future that is dangerously unhealthy, and very likely unaffordable. Healthy Ireland seeks to provide people and communities with accurate information on how to improve their health and wellbeing and seeks to empower and motivate them by making the healthy choice the easier choice.

Download a copy of the report here.