Kiwi eight-year-olds' thoughts and feelings revealed in massive longitudinal study

For the very first time, researchers have catalogued the thoughts and feelings of eight-year-olds taking part in Aotearoa's largest longitudinal study, Growing Up In New Zealand.

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The Growing Up in New Zealand researchers gathered data from 6000 children. Source: 1 NEWS

The findings provide an interesting insight into issues on the minds of those involved in the ongoing study of 6000 children.

Key issues emerging among the eight-year-old cohort include:

Identity - with 1/3 of children identifying their own ethnicity and gender, including 57 per cent as European, 22 per cent as Māori, 15 per cent as Pacific and 12 per cent as Asian.

Health and wellbeing - 1/3 of children were classified as overweight or obese, with 2/3 wanting to be smaller.

"The girls, unfortunately one in three, are really wanting to be smaller and that's not just the children who are measured as being in the overweight and obese category," says principal investigator professor Susan Morton. 

"The boys, interestingly, tend to be the other way round. So they actually want to be larger, and again that can be independent of actually how they are measured in terms of body size."

The report also finds that while most eight-year-olds are living busy, healthy, happy lives, a significant portion of the other children are experiencing varying degrees of hardship.

  • 3/4 have moved at least once in their lives
  • 37 per cent lived in damp or mouldy homes
  • Some miss out on basic household necessities
  • 20 per cent of families often or sometimes can not afford to eat properly 
  • Symptoms of anxiety are also more likely among Māori, Pacific and Asian children. 

These factors are contributing to a measurable range of difficulties for children in hardship as they grow up.

"The thing that is worrying and sad about that is that we start to see real impacts on their wellbeing," Morton says. 

"We're seeing them falling further behind than they were in their pre-school years at the age of eight. We're seeing impact on their depression and anxiety scores. We're seeing impact on their body size."

Morton says researchers are starting to see that those environments are leading to a group of children who are potentially going to have worse outcomes throughout their lives.

"We think this is not a great look for New Zealand," she says. 

"We think it's not good enough and actually it tells us we still need to be doing more to make sure that those children are having every chance of having the wellbeing that we know we would like to be seeing for them."

The Covid-19 pandemic also offered researchers the chance to go back and talk to the eight-year-old cohort about the impact of lockdown on themselves and their families.

That data is currently being assessed and compiled.

Morton's advice to parents who may be concerned about their eight-year-olds is that the report is not a one-size-fits-all, and not to worry if your child seems a little bit different than you were expecting them to be or "a little bit outside the norm".