Parents' main worries today are much different from past generations'. With many kids now tipping the scales, obesity is the No. 1 children's health concern for most households, according to a new nationwide poll.
Looking at a survey of more than 2,000 adults (three-quarters with kids), researchers at the University of Michigan report that childhood obesity rose to the top of the worry list for the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health for 2008, after being No. 3 in 2007.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently found that, for the first time in decades, the childhood obesity rate has actually leveled off rather than gone up, the latest statistics on kids' weight are still staggering. About 32% of children and teens are considered overweight or obese.
In addition to feeling unsettled about childhood obesity, the other top 10 concerns for 2008 included:
- Drug abuse
- Smoking (the No. 1 worry among Hispanics surveyed)
- Internet safety
- Child abuse and neglect
- Teen pregnancy (the No. 1 concern for black adults surveyed)
- Alcohol abuse
- Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) tied for 9th with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Environmental chemicals tied for 10th with too few opportunities for kids to exercise
Two 2007 concerns that didn't seem to weigh as heavily on adults' minds this year were car crashes and violence in schools.
What This Means to You
Parents' worries usually change as kids get bigger. With every developmental stage that passes, you may say a very welcome goodbye to one concern only to realize another is waiting in the wings.
Although it's practically impossible to keep kids out of harm's way at all times, knowing what to expect from children's development as they grow can help you stay on top of what your kids are — and will be — doing at each age and what you can do to help protect their health and safety throughout the years.
Make sure to use routine checkups to ask your doctor what you can anticipate and how to curb any common age-appropriate problems before the next regular visit (this is called "anticipatory guidance," which doctors often give at well-child checkups).
Of course, doctors can't predict exactly what will happen to your kids in the future — and every child's development and life experiences are different. But doctors can keep you informed about what kids their age often go through, the challenges they (and you) may face, and what you can do to help ease transitions and changes as they mature.
Whether you're bringing up a babbling baby or a blossoming teen, here are some of the other big-picture things you can do to help your kids be happy and to keep their brains and bodies in tip-top shape as they grow:
- Get regular health care for your whole family. That means prenatal appointments throughout your pregnancy, plus routine immunizations and well-child checkups for your kids.
- Use routine visits to ask doctors for advice and reassurance, to fill in the holes and correct misinformation, and for referrals to other health care professionals if you need more answers.
- Encourage a healthy lifestyle that includes plenty of regular exercise and a nutritious diet that's short on sugar and fat, and long on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and calcium-rich foods.
- Limit screen time (TV, movies, computer, video games) to no more than 2 hours of quality programming a day for kids over age 2.
- Stay in the know about what your kids are doing (at home, in school, online), where they're going, and who they're hanging out with.
- Keep injuries at bay. Childproof your home. Always use age-appropriate car seats (or seatbelts, when they're old enough and big enough). Enforce safety rules like wearing helmets. Keep guns out of your home or locked up and out of reach.
- Practice positive discipline — don't hit or spank, and emphasize the good things your kids do more than the bad.
- Work quality family time into your schedule, whether it's eating dinner together every night or taking a bike ride around the neighborhood.
- Be a positive role model so that they'll do as you say and as you do. For example, show them the importance of being kind to others, loving yourself for who you are, and leading an active, healthy lifestyle.
- Talk about the tough stuff — from sex to smoking, drugs to alcohol — early on, keeping your kids' ages and maturity levels in mind.
- Tune in and really listen to your children's needs and opinions so they'll realize that you recognize and value how they feel and what they think.
- Ask questions and follow your gut. If you think there's a problem or need help in any area, don't hesitate to call your doctor.
And always make sure to take care of yourself so that you can take the best possible care of your kids from infancy through adolescence.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: July 2008
Source: "C.S. Motts Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health," C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, University of Michigan Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, and the University of Michigan Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit; July 14, 2008.