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Health & Parenting

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Parents Don't See Childhood Obesity as Serious

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Annie Finnegan

Sept. 13, 2000 (Washington) -- Violence, illegal drugs, sexually transmitted diseases, or obesity -- which of these is the greatest threat to the health of children? Far and away, it's childhood obesity, because of the long-term health problems associated with being overweight. But a survey of more than 1,000 parents reveals that only about 5% identified the correct answer.

The survey, which involved parents of children ages 6 to 18, was presented here at a meeting of the American Obesity Association (AOA).

"The most important finding of the survey is that parents are disconnected with the real long-term risks of obesity," Judith Stern, ScD, tells WebMD. "Long-term obesity is by far the most serious problem of those we asked parents to rate, and this should act as a wake-up call for public health officials and health care providers to educate people better." Stern is a professor of internal medicine and nutrition at the University of California at Davis and vice president of the AOA.

In the AOA-sponsored survey, over 30% of the parents surveyed indicated that they were "very" or "somewhat" concerned about their own child's weight. Parents identified too little physical activity and bad eating habits as the most important causes of obesity.

"One very encouraging parental attitude we discerned was that almost 80% of parents thought physical education classes should not be cut in favor of additional academic courses," say Stern. "Additionally, less than half of those surveyed thought schools were doing a 'good' or 'excellent' job of teaching lifestyle patterns to help prevent obesity. Parents are simply unwilling to balance the education budget on the hips and health of their children, and that's an attitude that should be encouraged."

According to William Deitz, MD, PhD, director of the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity at the CDC in Atlanta, one disturbing attitude seen among the parents surveyed was that they said changing their own exercise and dietary habits would be easy to do if they thought it would help their children.

"If that is the case, then why aren't parents modifying their eating and exercise habits?" he asks. He says parents may be confusing the terms "obese" and "overweight." "I think many parents think their child is only obese if they weigh 300 pounds, and perhaps we need to use the word 'overweight' to get through to them," he says.

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