What are the Biggest Health Problems in Ireland?

In 2019, Ireland boasted an impressive statistic: 84% of its population reported being in good health, marking it as one of the healthiest nations in the European Union. However, beneath this surface of well-being lie stark contrasts, particularly evident in the realm of chronic conditions. While nearly three in ten Irish adults live with at least one chronic ailment, a proportion lower than the EU average, the impact of these conditions amplifies with age, especially among those aged 65 and over. Moreover, these health disparities mirror economic inequalities, with those in the lowest income brackets bearing a disproportionately higher burden of chronic illnesses compared to their affluent counterparts. As we navigate through these statistics, it becomes evident that while Ireland may boast good overall health, there’s a pressing need to address the underlying factors contributing to these disparities in health outcomes.

What are the Biggest Health Problems in Ireland?

1. Chronic Diseases

Chronic diseases like heart disease, respiratory disease, cancer, and diabetes are prevalent in Ireland, affecting a significant portion of the population. These conditions often require long-term management and care.

2. Obesity

Based on self-reported data, there has been a notable rise in overweight and obesity rates among adults in Ireland in recent years. Obesity rates climbed from 15% in 2007 to 18% in 2015, surpassing the EU average of 16%. Among adolescents, 14% of 15-year-olds were classified as overweight or obese in 2018, a figure lower than that of most EU nations.

The prevalence of low physical activity contributes significantly to the issue of overweight and obesity. Merely one in six 15-year-olds reported engaging in at least moderate physical activity daily in 2018, a proportion similar to many other EU countries. Conversely, adults in Ireland exhibit higher levels of physical activity compared to their EU counterparts. In 2014, the rate of physical inactivity among adults stood at 27% in Ireland, contrasting with the EU average of 36%.

Encouragingly, fruit and vegetable consumption among both adults and adolescents in Ireland ranks among the highest across EU countries.

3. Smoking

Ireland made substantial progress over the past two decades in reducing smoking rates: one in seven Irish adults (14 %) smoked daily in 2019 compared to more than one in four (27 %) in 2002. The rate in 2019 was below the EU average, but still slightly higher than that registered in several Nordic countries (Figure 6). However, use of e-cigarettes has become more popular. In 2019, 5 % of the Irish population reported using e-cigarettes – up from 3 % in 2015 (Department of Health, 2019). Tobacco smoking has also becomeless popular among adolescents. Only about 10 % of 15-year-olds in Ireland reported that they had smoked cigarettes in the past month in 2018, which is one of the lowest rates in the EU In 2014, rates of physical inactivity among adults were 27 % in Ireland, compared to the EU average of 36 %. Fruit and vegetable consumption among adults and adolescents are also among the highest across EU countries

4. Alcohol Consumption

In 2019, approximately 24% of adults in Ireland engaged in regular heavy alcohol consumption, a rate exceeding that of most EU nations. Notably, binge drinking rates are more than twice as high among men compared to women. The per capita alcohol consumption among adults reached 10.8 liters of pure alcohol in 2019, nearly 10% above the EU average.

However, despite the prevalence of heavy alcohol use among adults, the rates among 15-year-olds in Ireland are comparatively lower than the EU average. Only 15% of 15-year-olds reported having been intoxicated at least twice in their lifetime in 2018, contrasting with the 22% EU average.

Efforts to mitigate early alcohol initiation have been prioritized in Ireland, evidenced by the enactment of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act in 2018. This legislation aims to address alcohol-related issues by introducing measures such as minimum unit pricing and structural separation of alcohol products in retail settings. Despite its significance, some key provisions of this legislation remain unimplemented as of mid-2021.

5. Mental Health Problems

Mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and stress-related disorders, are prevalent in Ireland and require adequate support and resources for treatment.

6. Musculoskeletal Diseases

Conditions affecting the muscles, bones, and joints are common in Ireland, leading to pain, reduced mobility, and decreased quality of life.

7. Respiratory Diseases

Ireland faces high rates of respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which can significantly impact individuals’ respiratory health and quality of life.

8. Cancer

Estimations provided by the Joint Research Centre, based on previous years’ incidence trends, projected approximately 27,000 new cases of cancer in Ireland in 2020. It was anticipated that the age-standardized incidence rate would surpass that of other EU countries for both men and women.

The primary sites for cancer among men were expected to be prostate (31%), colorectal (13%), and lung (11%), while for women, they were breast (27%), lung (13%), and colorectal cancer (10%).

The elevated and escalating incidence of cancer is partially attributed to the aging demographic and various behavioral risk factors, notably smoking, alcohol consumption, and sedentary lifestyles.

In 2018, cancer claimed the lives of over 31,000 individuals. The age-standardized mortality rate from cancer closely mirrored the EU average, standing at 270 per 100,000 population.

Ireland’s National Cancer Strategy 2017-2026 identified cancer prevention and enhancing care as priority areas for improvement. It’s important to note that these estimates were formulated prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which could potentially impact cancer incidence rates in 2020.

9. Cardiovascular Diseases

Heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions are leading causes of mortality in Ireland, emphasizing the importance of preventive measures and lifestyle modifications.

10. Diabetes

Diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, is a growing health issue in Ireland, requiring ongoing management, monitoring, and lifestyle adjustments to prevent complications.

These health problems in Ireland highlight the need for comprehensive public health initiatives, healthcare services, and individual lifestyle changes to address and mitigate their impact on the population’s well-being.


In conclusion, Ireland faces a multifaceted array of health challenges, ranging from mental health concerns to rising rates of obesity and cancer. While the statistics may paint a concerning picture, there are also encouraging signs of progress and resilience within the Irish healthcare landscape.

Efforts to address these challenges must be comprehensive, involving collaboration across sectors and communities. Initiatives aimed at promoting mental well-being, tackling obesity through promoting healthy lifestyles, and implementing effective cancer prevention and treatment strategies are all vital components of Ireland’s healthcare agenda.

As we navigate the complexities of health in Ireland, it’s crucial to remember that every statistic represents a person, a family, and a community. By prioritizing prevention, early intervention, and equitable access to healthcare, we can work towards a healthier, more vibrant future for all individuals across the Emerald Isle.

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