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Parents rank obesity low on list of conditions warranting medical attention

A new survey conducted by Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City shows that only 54 percent of parents feel it is "very important" to seek medical attention for their overweight children.

More parents said it is very important to seek care for their children with symptoms of diabetes (81 percent), asthma (80 percent) and learning disabilities. Paradoxically 94 percent of parents said they would seek medical care for their children for conditions that would limit their life expectancy and nearly as many – 93 percent – said they would seek medical attention for their kids if it would impact their future healthcare costs.

"Despite the attention on the obesity epidemic, the disconnect found among parents regarding the long-term outcomes associated with childhood obesity is concerning," said Sarah Hampl, MD, medical director, Weight Management Services at Children's Mercy in a press release announcing the survey results. "Obese children have both immediate and future health problems, including hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. The survey illustrates that parents need help connecting the dots between having an overweight child and what their future health consequences may be."

The news isn't all bad, however. While there appears to be a disconnect between how parents view childhood obesity and their future health and medical costs, there is growing awareness that it is a problem that needs to be addressed, with eight-in-ten agreeing that parents have the greatest potential impact in preventing obesity in their children.

Parent also want schools to take a more proactive role in preventing obesity. Fifty-nine percent believe that schools can have a large impact in preventing childhood obesity. The survey found  a high rate of approval from parents for school initiatives that would included changing physical education requirements (favored by 92 percent of parents), requiring a minimum amount of recess time for elementary students was favored by 89 percent of parents, while a similar number – 87 percent –  think schools should support students' wellness and attempt to lower rates of obesity through healthy meals and educational activities. Placing restrictions on unhealthy foods at school fundraising activities was favored by 68 percent.

"There is widespread support among parents for policies requiring physical education, recess and wellness support in schools, as well as a call for avoiding unhealthy foods as part of school fundraisers," the report noted. "Parents are similarly supportive of government policies promoting healthy eating and physical activity, but less supportive of taxes on soda and 'junk' food."

For example, parents are supportive of proposed regulations that:

  • Require healthy options in all public places that have vending machines (81 precent)
  • Require that health insurance companies cover obesity treatment (77 percent)
  • Require sidewalks in all neighborhoods (76 percent)
  • Strengthen regulations on food marketing to kids (73 precent)
  • Control locations of fast food restaurants (for example, limiting placement near schools) (60 precent)

When it comes to treatment of overweight kids, the parents took a softer line. Few parents said they are supportive of extreme interventions for overweight children, such as weight loss surgery (5 percent), medication (16 percent) or removal from their parents' custody (6 percent). Slightly more than half – 51 percent – support more moderate means of intervention such as outpatient treatment programs.

"It is evident that parents recognize that there is an issue and that they can have an impact on combating obesity," said John Lantos, MD, the hospital's Director of Pediatric Bioethics. "(Parents) need to set a healthy example and work with both physicians and schools to encourage a healthy lifestyle that includes physical activity, healthy habits and nutritious food."

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