Press Release

Minister Marcella Corcoran Kennedy launches the second Healthy Ireland Survey of the nation’s health

Marcella Corcoran Kennedy TD, Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for Health Promotion today launched the Summary Report of the second Healthy Ireland Survey.

The second annual Healthy Ireland Survey of 7,500 people aged 15 and over living in Ireland gives an up-to-date picture of the health of the nation and reports on many lifestyle behaviours such as smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, diet and mental health. A number of new topics have been included in this year’s Survey which examine additional aspects of health behaviours and issues such as multiple risk factors and knowledge and attitudes about health behaviours.

Some new findings in this year’s Survey results include:

  • While 90% of respondents know that alcohol is a risk factor for liver disease, only 27% of women are aware of the increased risk of developing breast cancer as a result of heavy drinking
  • The majority (55%) of men who drink, consume six or more standard drinks (“binge drink”) on a typical drinking occasion while fewer than 1 in 5 (18%) women drink to this level
  • Fewer than 1 in 10 women takes a folic acid supplement with just 18% of women aged 25 to 34 doing so
  • 18% of the population in Ireland is exposed to second-hand smoke on a daily basis
  • While only 54% of people living in Ireland said they would be willing to live with somebody with a mental health problem, 83% of people said they would be willing to carry on a relationship with a friend who developed a mental health problem
  • People spend 6 hours and 36 minutes sitting on an average day and while men generally spend longer sitting than women, younger women spend more time sitting than men of the same age
  • Most people (63%) would like to be more physically active although many say that time pressure due to work or caring is a barrier

Speaking at the launch, Minister Corcoran Kennedy welcomed publication of the Report, saying “The new findings in the second Healthy Ireland Survey add very useful evidence about key lifestyle issues affecting people living in Ireland. Despite seeing some very positive results in this Survey, some groups still have a risk of poor health due to lifestyle behaviours. These results will help us in the Department of Health, as well as in other Departments and agencies, to focus actions to promote and improve health and wellbeing by targeting at-risk groups and those experiencing health inequalities. The Government has made a very clear and unambiguous commitment to implementing Healthy Ireland, especially in the recent Budget, with €5m specifically allocated to kick starting cross-sectoral engagement, and I look forward to focusing on specific actions and initiatives in the coming months.”

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health commented that “While we have made progress in some areas in the last few years, rates of tobacco consumption, alcohol usage, food consumption patterns and physical inactivity are leading causes of increases in chronic conditions. This Survey is clearly showing us a clustering of risk factors for poor health with significant numbers of people having two or more unhealthy behaviours. The data from this Survey are a very valuable asset to assist the Department of Health and our other partners working for a Healthy Ireland.”

The Survey showed that of the four types of unhealthy behaviours under consideration, the most common was that almost three-quarters (73%) of the population eat fewer than five portions of fruit and vegetables daily. Between a fifth and a third of the population have each of the other three behaviours – binge drinking (28%), sedentary behaviour (26%) and smoking (23%).

Dr Holohan continued “The number of people experiencing chronic diseases is increasing. We know that the majority of chronic diseases are preventable or modifiable through lifestyle behaviour changes. Healthy Ireland seeks to support people and communities in making those positive changes and to also influence the wider environment so the healthier choice is the easier one for everyone.”

Some of the other important findings include:

  • 84% of people living in Ireland say their health is very good or good although 28% indicate that they have a long-standing illness or health condition
  • 23% of the population are current smokers
  • Three in five eat snacks every day with 42% of the population eating 6 or more portions daily
  • Just 27% eat five portions of fruit and vegetables daily
  • 14% consume sugar sweetened drinks daily, rising to 22% of those aged 15 to 24
  • 37% of drinkers indicate that they drink six or more standard drinks (“binge drinking”) on a typical drinking occasion
  • 91% of those who feel they do not undertake a sufficient level of activity would like to be more active
  • While 19% of people living in Ireland smoke on a daily basis, recruitment of new smokers continues at a high rate with 20% of those aged under 25 currently smoking
  • 67% of men and 39% of women aged under 25 binge drink on a typical drinking occasion
  • The average annual number of GP visits rises from 3.4 visits among 15 to 24 year olds to 8.4 among those aged 75 and older and 27% have consulted a medical or surgical consultant in the past 12 months
  • Approximately half of the people living in Ireland have had some experience of people with mental health issues

Minister Corcoran Kennedy added “We also need to put more emphasis on prevention of health problems before they arise, as we know that the majority of chronic diseases are preventable. The results of this survey support the implementation of our key national policies in areas such as obesity, smoking, alcohol, physical activity and sexual health. We will keep working with our partners across the whole of Government to make sure that these plans, supported and developed by data from the Healthy Ireland survey waves, are implemented. ”

Notes for editors
The Healthy Ireland Survey was commissioned by the Department of Health to gather data on a range of health issues.

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. This Report is a summary of the findings from the second wave of the survey and adds to the data collected in the first wave which was published in 2015.

The second Healthy Ireland Survey consists of 7,498 interviews conducted with a representative sample of the population aged 15 and older living in Ireland. Survey fieldwork was conducted between September 2015 and May 2016. Respondents were interviewed on a variety of topics including general health, smoking, alcohol, diet and nutrition, physical activity, mental health and wellbeing and sexual health.

Data from the first Healthy Ireland Survey and from this Survey are used to inform current policy direction and will be used to develop new policy responses from the considerable evidence about health behaviours in Ireland. This includes supporting the Department of Health, the HSE and other key stakeholders in policy development, programme development and delivery and development of interventions to improve, promote and protect health and wellbeing.

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 are being 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.

Healthy Ireland Survey – 2016 Summary Findings