Obesity remains No. 1 health problem for kids in 2009

CHEAR: Public Concern Rising About Childhood Obesity

CHEAR: Public Concern Rising About Childhood Obesity

ANN ARBOR, Mich.-Public concern about childhood obesity is on the rise and it continues to outrank all other health problems as the No. 1 concern for children in the United States. 

According to a report released today by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, the proportion of adults who believe childhood obesity is a big problem has increased from 35 percent of adults in 2008 to 42 percent in 2009.

While obesity has ranked as the top overall health concern for kids in the U.S. for the last two years, it has not always been the case for Hispanics or blacks.

"This is the first year the three major racial/ethnic groups all agree," says  Matthew Davis , M.D., director of the poll.  "In 2008, among whites, the chief concern was obesity, while among blacks the chief concern was teen pregnancy, and among Hispanics the chief concern was smoking."

In May 2009, the Poll asked adults to rate 23 different health concerns for children living in their communities.

Top 10 overall health concerns rated as a big problem for U.S. children in 2009:

1. Childhood obesity. Forty-two percent of U.S. adults rate childhood obesity as a big problem. In 2008, 35 percent of adults rated childhood obesity as the top overall health concern for children. In 2007, it was ranked No. 3.

2. Drug abuse. Thirty-six percent of U.S. adults rate drug abuse as a big problem for children and has held at No. 2 since 2007.

3. Smoking. Ranked No. 1 in 2007, smoking continues to hold the No. 3 position since 2008, with 32 percent of U.S. adults rating it as a big problem for kids.

4. Bullying. Holding at No. 4, 31 percent of U.S. adults rate bullying as a big problem for children.

5. Internet safety. Continuing at No. 5, 31 percent of U.S. adults consider internet safety a big problem for kids, slightly up from 27 percent in 2008.

6. Child abuse and neglect. This issue, which was ranked No. 10 in 2007, holds at No. 6 and was rated as a big problem among 29 percent of U.S. adults, up from 25 percent in 2008.

7. Alcohol abuse. Up from No. 8 in 2008, 26.5 percent of U.S. adults consider alcohol abuse a big problem. For the 2008 poll, 23 percent of adults listed alcohol abuse as a health concern for kids. In 2007, alcohol abuse was ranked fourth overall.

8. Stress. New to the list in 2009, 26 percent of U.S. adults rate stress as a big problem for children.

9. Not enough opportunities for physical activity. Up one spot from 2008, nearly 25 percent of U.S adults rate this as a big problem for kids.

10. Teen pregnancy. Falling three places from No. 7 to No. 10, 24 percent of U.S adults rated teen pregnancy as a big problem in 2009. 

Health issues for children not ranked in the top ten include: chemicals in the environment, driving accidents, sexually transmitted infections, school violence, depression, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, asthma, autism, eating disorders, neighborhood safety, dental problems, suicide and unsafe foods.

The National Poll on Children's Health also found that adults from low-income households making $30,000 per year or less rated smoking and tobacco use as the top child health concern, while the middle and highest income households making $30,000 to more than $100,000 per year rated childhood obesity as the biggest health concern for kids.

Stress now ranks among the top 10 child health problems, and was especially of concern for children in lower-income communities.

"As we reported in July 2009, levels of stress among children may relate to economic stresses faced by their families in the current economic downturn," says Davis, associate professor of general pediatrics and internal medicine at the U-M Medical School, and associate professor of public policy at the U-M Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. "The fact that stress rates so high in the list of child health problems is a reminder that most of the problems on the list are behavioral or psychological in nature."

To address such problems successfully, Davis says children and families need not just access to medical and mental health care, but also guidance from community health and educational programs that cultivate healthy, protective behaviors and offer support when health problems arise.

Top three health concerns for children in 2009 by race/ethnicity:


  1. Childhood obesity by 39 percent
  2. Drug abuse by 35 percent
  3. Internet safety by 30 percent
  1. Childhood obesity by 55 percent
  2. Smoking and tobacco by 44 percent
  3. Teen pregnancy by nearly 44 percent


  1. Childhood obesity by 46 percent
  2. Bullying by 37 percent
  3. Child abuse and neglect by nearly 37 percent

Other resources:

Full report, including Top 10 by race/ethnicity: http://www.mottnpch.org/sites/default/files/documents/81009fullreport.pdf

Podcast: www.med.umich.edu/podcast/CHEARcast/2009/2009_Top_10.mp3

Prevention and treatment of childhood obesity, from the American Academy of Pediatrics: http://www2.aap.org/obesity/SOOb/index.html

Methodology: This report presents findings from a nationally representative household survey conducted exclusively by Knowledge Networks, Inc, for C.S. Mott Children's Hospital via a method used in many published studies. The survey was administered in May 2009 to a randomly selected, stratified group of adults aged 18 and older (n=2,017) from the Knowledge Networks standing panel that closely resembles the U.S. population. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect population figures from the Census Bureau. The survey completion rate was 59 percent among panel members contacted to participate. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 to 4 percentage points for the main analysis. For results based on subgroups, the margin of error is higher.

To learn more about Knowledge Networks, visit www.knowledgenetworks.com

Purpose/Funding: The C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health - funded by the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases and part of the CHEAR Unit at the U-M Health System - is designed to measure major health care issues and trends for U.S. children.

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