Tackling tough topics: childhood obesity & eating disorders

Our National Poll on Children’s Health report in January 2012  addressed two health concerns facing kids today: childhood obesity and eating disorders.

Childhood obesity has consistently ranked among the top concerns  that parents and the public have regarding children’s health in the U.S. There have been many prevention and intervention efforts to address this epidemic—at local and national levels.

On the other hand, experts have seen a steady increase in the prevalence of eating disorders among children and pre-teens. While eating disorders are less common than childhood obesity, both are serious concerns for kids’ health in the U.S.

We fielded a survey asking the public what they think about these twin dilemmas, in order to see what parents had to say about obesity programs taking place in their child’s schools and any worrisome eating behaviors or physical activity they witnessed in their children. (As always, survey questions are posted online as a .pdf download.)

It is important to note, as we did in the report, that the majority of school-based programs are not associated with parents’ perceptions of worrisome behaviors by their kids.  In fact, we found only one association: parents whose kids’ schools have programs that promote physical activity through incentives are more than twice as likely to be concerned that their kids exercise too much. 

Given the severity and potentially life-threatening nature of eating disorders, we conclude that one link like this is reason enough to be alert for the possibility that school-based obesity-related programs can have unintended consequences.  Nevertheless, we are also encouraged that  many school-based obesity-related programs are not associated with parental concerns.

At the National Poll on Children’s Health, we have a single-pointed agenda: to ask the public what they think about important child health issues and report our findings. We focus our work on issues that come from clinical information and perceptions, public health matters and events, legislative actions, and other issues in today’s news about child health and health policy. Unlike many other polling efforts, we are fully transparent about how we phrase our survey questions. 

All are welcome to debate the issues that we raise. In fact, we hope that our data will not only inform but prompt dialogue about children’s health and health policy issues.  We stand by our data as an effort to the take the pulse of the public about child health issues, today and in the future.