Public wants presidential candidates to address childhood obesity, bullying

June 18, 2012 Volume 16 Issue 1
  • The public rates childhood obesity as the top priority for presidential candidates to address.
  • Other high-ranking child health priorities for candidates to address in the public’s view are bullying, drug abuse, and child abuse and neglect.
  • There were no differences in child health priorities by adults’ political party affiliation or race/ethnicity.

As the race for president in 2012 accelerates, candidates and their staffs have to make key decisions about priorities in their campaigns in the coming months. Healthcare reform is a major topic this year. So is the health of America’s seniors, who depend on Medicare to help them pay for healthcare. In contrast, the health of children in the United States tends not to be the focus of political talk—perhaps because the opinions of the public about children’s health and what political candidates should prioritize are not widely known.   

Health and health-related behaviors during childhood are strongly related to health during adulthood. Despite the high costs of problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and depression that often have their beginnings in childhood and adolescence, there has been little dialogue among presidential candidates about how they will work to improve children’s health issues. In May 2012, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health asked a national sample of adults to name the top child health priority that they believe the presidential candidates should address.

Dear Candidates:  Make These Child Health Problems Your Priorities

Adults selected the single most important child health issue for the next presidential candidate to address from a list of 24 common child health concerns. Overall, the public voted childhood obesity as number one priority that the presidential candidates should address, followed by bullying, drug abuse, and child abuse and neglect (Figure 1).

While about 1 in 6 adults (17%) view childhood obesity as the top child health priority for the presidential candidates to focus on, 1 in 7 adults (15%) believe bullying should be the top child health issue. Meanwhile, 11% report drug abuse and 8% report child abuse and neglect as the top child health issues for the presidential candidates to address.  

Child Health Priorities by Party Affiliation and Race/Ethnicity

There were no differences in child health priorities for candidates related to adults’ political party affiliations. In addition, there were no differences in child health priorities by respondents’ race/ethnicity.

Implications

About 40 million Americans of voting age believe that the top child health priority for presidential candidates to address is childhood obesity. This view is consistent with the last several annual measurements in this Poll of ‘big health problems for children’ perceived by adults regarding children in their communities – in which childhood obesity has held the top spot for the last 4 years. The federal government is currently responsible for many programs that may have an impact on childhood obesity, including school lunch, financing of public transportation projects, encouragement of physical activity, and subsidies for specific food items. The public is aware, however, that more may be needed. Many potential voters seem eager to hear from candidates about how they plan to address this pervasive problem that has effects on health during childhood and well into adulthood.

Together, the top 4 priorities for presidential candidates to address regarding child health represent the votes of one-half of Americans old enough to vote. As a group of issues, childhood obesity, bullying, drug abuse, and child abuse and neglect reflect public concerns about behavior-related health risks that may be difficult to address once they have been initiated.

The federal government has current, high-visibility programs regarding childhood obesity and drug abuse. From the public perspective, these programs may need renewed attention and investment. Meanwhile, the problems of bullying and child abuse and neglect have typically been addressed at the state or local level. For these interpersonal challenges, the public call for attention by presidential candidates indicates that the public wants more involvement at the national level.

Data Source

This report presents findings from a nationally representative household survey conducted exclusively by Knowledge Networks, Inc. (KN), for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital via a method used in many published studies. The survey was administered in May 2012 to a randomly selected, stratified group of adults age 18 and older (n=2,144) from the KN 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 62% among panel members contacted to participate. The margin of error is ± 2 to 3 percentage points.

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health
Director: Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Associate Director: Sarah J. Clark, MPH
Manager & Editor: Dianne C. Singer, MPH
Data Analyst: Amy T. Butchart, MPH
Web Editor: Anna Daly Kauffman, BA

Findings from the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health do not represent the opinions of the investigators or the opinions of the University of Michigan. The University of Michigan reserves all rights over this material.

Q1. Think about the upcoming presidential election. Please choose ONE child health issue from the list below that you think should be the top children’s health priority for the presidential candidates to address.

(Select only one response)

Alcohol abuse Driving accidents School violence
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ADHD/ADD Drug abuse Sexting
Autism Gun related injuries Sexually transmitted infections (including HIV/AIDS)
Bullying Food allergies Smoking and tobacco use
Chemicals in the environment Hunger Suicide
Child abuse and neglect Internet safety Stress
Childhood obesity Not enough exercise Teen pregnancy
Depression Racial inequality Unsafe neighborhoods

Participants were also asked demographic questions on political party, gender, race/ethnicity, annual household income, education and insurance status.

All information is the sole property of the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. It can only be used if there is an acknowledgment that "The information came from, is copyright by and is owned by and belongs to the Regents of the University of Michigan and their C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. It cannot be republished or used in any format without prior written permission from the University."

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health
Director: Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Associate Director: Sarah J. Clark, MPH
Manager & Editor: Dianne C. Singer, MPH
Data Analyst: Amy T. Butchart, MPH
Web Editor: Anna Daly Kauffman, BA

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Infographic: Public wants presidential candidates to address childhood obesity, bullying

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