A ticking health timebomb, triggered by the pandemic, is revealed today. Official figures shine a light on an increase in alcohol consumption and smoking, as well as a rise in people suffering worsening mental health and struggling with their weight.
he stark picture of risky lifestyle habits, as the country battles Covid-19 and faces another potential surge from new variant Omicron, has been revealed in a nationwide survey by the Department of Health.
Parents of young children are among the groups drinking more alcohol.
Nearly one in three report worsening mental health and 81pc are less socially connected, according to the survey conducted of over-15s between October 2020 and March this year.
Some 13pc of people say they have lost someone close to them to suicide.
It comes as reported daily Covid-19 cases fell to 2,950 yesterday, although it is likely to exclude a backlog of positives.
The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital rose to 536, an increase of 33 patients. There were 110 Covid-19 patients in intensive care.
There is a looming threat from the Omicron variant, which has been found here, and is now spreading across multiple regions of England among people with no links to international travel.
Meanwhile, the first deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine for five- to 11-year-olds are due here some time next week.
The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) is expected to approve its roll-out here but may ask the HSE to concentrate on the most medically vulnerable children first and concentrate on booster shots for older age groups.
A spokeswoman for Pfizer said yesterday: “We are on track to deliver EU-27 paediatric and adult monthly allocations, in line with our third contract, commencing December 2021.”
The 14-day incidence of infection in children aged under 14 remains high and cases rose by 21pc among this age group in the week to November 26, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO).
The Covid-19 booster shot is a big factor in the reduction of infection in older age groups, including an 11pc drop in cases in the over-80s.
However, the fight against Covid-19 is exacting a heavy price on the nation’s health. More people are sinking into potentially dangerous lifestyle habits as well as psychological distress which will have serious implications for disease and demand for services.
The Healthy Ireland survey, launched by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, found three in 10 people have gained weight, particularly women aged over 30 and mothers.
Around 18pc of people are smokers but this is unchanged since 2018.
The report found that the impact of the pandemic had been felt “most strongly by younger people; some 60pc of those aged under 25 report at least one negative change”.
These negative changes refer to drinking, smoking, weight gain or a decline in mental health. This compares to 31pc in those aged 75 and older.
More women than men are affected, with particular concern for women and girls aged under 25.
“These negative changes in behaviours and outcomes are not sustainable and people need to be encouraged and supported in making positive changes as we emerge from the pandemic,” it is stated in the report.
“Encouraging this change will be challenging, although many are expressing a desire to make improvements.
“However, the severity of the challenge is highlighted by the high proportions who do not identify a desire to cut back on the amount they drink or smoke or lose weight.
“These groups in particular will need support to ensure that sudden changes in health behaviours do not last long into the future.”
The proportion of men drinking regularly – at least once a week – has declined from 48pc in 2018 to 42pc in 2021. But it has remained broadly unchanged among women at 34pc.
Around 42pc of drinkers say they are drinking less, but it has increased in 35- to 44-year-olds and also among parents of young children.
Mr Donnelly said there will be additional mental health supports. “Funding for mental health services increased from €700m in 2012 to €1.1bn in 2022,” he said.