Children from disadvantaged backgrounds in Ireland are more likely to have problems with their health, education and emotional wellbeing by the age of 13, compared with their more advantaged peers, a report says.

The new Growing Up In Ireland report highlights challenges faced by 13-year-olds.

The report, based on interviews with more than 7,400 young people and their families when the children were 13 years old in 2012, and when they were nine years old in 2007/08, exposes considerable differences in childhood depending on family background.

Parents from more disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to report that their 13-year-old had some form of health problem, 33% in the lowest social class, compared with 22% of parents in the highest social class.

Although obesity levels were high across all 13-year-olds, there were strong differences according to family background.

Twenty per cent of all 13-year-olds were overweight and 6% were obese.

Twenty per cent of all 13-year-olds were overweight and 6% were obeseTwenty per cent of all 13-year-olds were overweight and 6% were obese (Chris Radburn/PA)

Girls were significantly more likely than boys to be overweight or obese (30% compared with 24%), and less likely to take part in physical exercise than their male peers.

Thirty two per cent the lowest social class were overweight or obese compared with 21% of 13-year-olds from the highest social class.

Likewise, children from disadvantaged family backgrounds were less likely to take part in organised sport and physical activity.

There is also a level of misperception among the 13-year-olds themselves regarding their weight.

Twenty one percent the 13-year-olds whose measurements indicated that they were obese described themselves as being “Just the right size” or “‘Very/A bit skinny”.

Overall, the report found that children had a positive attitude to school and teachers, and girls liked school more than boys.

Attitudes varied according to family background, with 34% of 13-year-olds whose main caregiver had degree-level qualifications liked school very much, compared with 24% of those whose main caregiver had left school at Junior Certificate level.

Performance in tests was also highest among children from more socially advantaged families (measured in terms of family income, mother’s education and social class).

Children who were growing up in one-parent families and those who came from families with lower levels of maternal education, were more likely than others to be classified as being at risk of socio-emotional and behavioural problems.

Levels of smoking, drinking and drug-taking showed no difference in boys and girls, but were highest among those from lower social class and lower education backgrounds.

Sixteen per cent of 13-year-olds reported that they had never had an alcoholic drink – other than a few sips – with a higher rate among boys than girls.

The report was launched by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) on Wednesday.

The ESRI said that the research showed some stark differences between advantaged and disadvantaged children in all areas that were tested.

Speaking at the launch, Dr Zappone said the data would help build policy for Ireland’s children.

“The report highlights some difficulties, and important differences related to family background, with some children from more socially disadvantaged backgrounds doing less well in a number of respects.

“This new data is invaluable and it reinforces our efforts to intervene well and to intervene early – so that we can ensure positive outcomes for all children. “