Childhood Obesity, Drug Abuse Top Concerns for Children

Internet Behavior, Including Sexting, Also Major Concern

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on August 16, 2011

Aug. 16, 2011 -- Sexting and Internet safety issues now rank among the top 10 health concerns U.S. adults have about children, joining childhood obesity, drug abuse, and teen pregnancy, according to a new poll by the University of Michigan.

The University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health asked more than 2,000 adults of difference races and ethnicities to rate 23 different health concerns for children living in their communities.

The top 10 children's health concerns list is topped by childhood obesity, drug abuse, and smoking and tobacco use, but the 2011 results suggest that parents are getting wise to new safety risks associated with the Internet and other technologies.

Childhood Obesity, Drug Abuse Chief Concerns

Overall, 33% of adults surveyed said that childhood obesity and drug abuse were "big problems."

“The perception of drug abuse as a big problem matches recent national data showing increasing use of marijuana and other drugs by U.S. teens,” Matthew Davis, MD, an associate professor at the University of Michigan Medical School, says in a news release. “Meanwhile, although obesity remains atop the list of child health concerns for the fourth straight year, the level of public concern has declined over the last few years in our polls.”

Smoking and tobacco use came next as a concern of 25% of adults, followed by teen pregnancy and bullying at 24%, Internet safety at 23%, stress at 22%, and alcohol abuse, driving accidents, and sexting at 20%.

Sexting involves sending sexually suggestive messages or photos, mostly from one mobile phone to another.

Public Getting the Message About Childhood Obesity

He says this decline “may be a warning to public health officials because it indicates how the public is hearing national messages that previous increases in children’s obesity rates have recently leveled off.”

Interestingly, the researchers say, the top 10 health concerns differed sharply among white, black, and Hispanic adults.

For example, Davis says, black adults “are much more likely to cite violence-related issues as big problems for kids in their communities.”

The top 10 health concerns for black adults include gun-related injuries, school violence, and unsafe neighborhoods. Those topics do not rank in the top 10 lists for white or Hispanic adults.

“This finding is a reminder that newly popular programs to address bullying and Internet safety concerns in many communities must not crowd out initiatives that address immediate safety issues related to neighborhood and interpersonal violence,” Davis says.

Tables of Top Concerns Overall and by Racial/Ethnic Groups

Overall, here is the top 10 health concerns of all adults polled:

  1. Childhood obesity, 33%
  2. Drug abuse, 33%
  3. Smoking and tobacco use, 23%
  4. Teen pregnancy, 24%
  5. Bullying, 24%
  6. Internet safety, 23%
  7. Stress, 22%
  8. Alcohol abuse, 20%
  9. Driving accidents, 20%
  10. Sexting, 20%

Here are the top 10 health concerns for children among black adults:

  1. Drug abuse, 44%
  2. Childhood obesity, 44%
  3. Smoking and tobacco use, 36%
  4. Gun-related injuries, 36%
  5. School violence, 35%
  6. Unsafe neighborhoods, 34%
  7. Alcohol abuse, 33%
  8. Teen pregnancy 33%
  9. Sexually transmitted infections, 31%
  10. Sexting, 31%

Here are the top 10 health concerns for children among Hispanic adults:

  1. Drug abuse, 49%
  2. Teen pregnancy, 44%
  3. Childhood obesity, 44%
  4. Child abuse and neglect, 38%
  5. Stress, 38%
  6. Driving accidents, 37%
  7. Bullying, 37%
  8. Smoking and tobacco use, 35%
  9. Internet safety, 34%
  10. Sexually transmitted infections, 33%

Here are the top health worries of white adults:

  1. Childhood obesity, 30%
  2. Drug abuse, 28%
  3. Smoking and tobacco use, 22%
  4. Internet safety, 21%
  5. Bullying, 21%
  6. Teen pregnancy, 19%
  7. Stress, 18%
  8. Alcohol abuse, 17%
  9. Sexting, 16%
  10. Driving accidents, 16%

The researchers say one of the most “notable” findings from the poll involves the differences in health concerns by race and ethnicity and highlights the need for local programs aimed at addressing community specific problems.

The survey involved 2,130 adults aged 18 or older, weighted to reflect population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. Davis tells WebMD that 1,558 people polled were white, 217 non-Hispanic black, 216 Hispanic, and 139 in other race/ethnicity categories.

Show Sources


News release, University of Michigan.

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, vol 13, August 2011.

Matthew Davis, associate professor, University of Michigan Medical School.

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