The Greatest Health Risk to Children? No, It’s Not Drugs

(Ian Britton: Flickr)

People polled cited unhealthy eating habits and sedentary lifestyle as greatest threat to children's health. (Ian Britton: Flickr)

Nearly half of people surveyed in a poll released today say an unhealthy diet combined with lack of physical activity are the greatest health risks facing California children today.

In addition, almost three in four respondents to the Field Poll — 73 percent — said prevention efforts, while starting with the family, must extend to the broader community, including health care providers, schools, community organizations and beyond — to food and beverage companies and fast food restaurants.

“Voters acknowledge they have a role to play,” Mark DeCamillo, Director of The Field Poll told me. “They should be involving the larger community and lots of different entities, companies included should be taking some responsibility in reducing obesity in kids.

The poll surveyed 1,000 registered California voters and was funded by The California Endowment. (The California Endowment is a supporter of KQED). Respondents across political parties, ethnic backgrounds and household incomes all agreed a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle are the major health risks to children. Illegal drug use was a distant second at 22 percent.

More than half of respondents (60 percent) said that the neighborhood where a child is raised makes a difference in their health. A strong majority (68 percent) said a comprehensive program to prevent childhood obesity — including building parks and promoting neighborhood safety — would be worth it, even if it cost billions of dollars.

“Californians understand that health happens in schools, in neighborhoods, and with prevention,” said Dr. Robert Ross, CEO of The California Endowment, said in a statement. “Regardless of age, ethnicity, income or political ideology, they recognize that investments in prevention save money over the long run.”

Support for “soda tax”

More than three out of five Californians (62 percent) would support a special fee on soda and other soft drinks, presuming the money was spent to fight childhood obesity. Richmond City Council Member Jeff Ritterman is working to put a so-called “soda tax” before Richmond voters in November. “This is encouraging for us,” he said in an interview, “I think it will get people who are working on it feeling like they are going to win.”

Voter opinions about the state imposing a special fee on soda and soft drinks, using money to fight childhood obesity. (The Field Poll)

DeCamillo told me that if you break the polling data down, 45 percent “strongly support” the idea of a special fee on sodas, up from 33 percent in last year’s poll. “That’s a statistically significant change,” he explained. “Usually on tax measures — and we do so many tax polls … we really put the emphasis on the ‘support strongly’ proportion. Those people usually don’t back down in the face of opposition campaigns. They are base core supporters.”

Dr. Wendy Slusser is the medical director of UCLA’s Fit for Healthy Weight Program. In the past, she says, our major health issues were clean water and clear air. “In a way, we’ve addressed that with legislation,” she told me. “Now it’s really about health, healthy food and good health. These are the emerging issues of the next decade that we’re going to have to be working on in a big way.”

Learn More:

Listen to Contra Costa County Public Health Director Dr. Wendel Brunner’s podcast in response to today’s poll. He discusses the health effects of childhood obesity and his opinion of a soda tax.

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  • Anonymous

    Preventive measures are key to better health and less hospital admissions. Less sodium and fat filled food, more time outside playing and less time in front of a computer or TV and a relationship with a primary care doctor will likely lay the foundation for less medical intervention – and more money in your pocket – down the line. http://whatstherealcost.org/video.php?post=five-questions