Top 10 child health problems: More concern for sexting, Internet safety

August 10, 2015 Volume 24 Issue 3
  • Adults rate childhood obesity, bullying and drug abuse at the top of the list of big health problems for kids across the U.S.
  • Internet safety rises to the 4th biggest child health concern, up from 8th in 2014. 
  • Sexting rises to #6 on the list of biggest health concerns, up from 13th in 2014.

In this year’s ninth annual survey of top health concerns conducted by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, adults rate childhood obesity, bullying, and drug abuse as the top health concerns for kids across the U.S. 

These three concerns were the same top-ranked child health problems as in 2014. But this year, Internet safety was the 4th most commonly identified “big problem”, up from #8 in 2014. Sexting received the biggest change in rating this year, from #13 in 2014 to #6 in 2015 (Figure 1).

Smoking has consistently been rated at or near the top of the list of health problems for kids from the perspective of adults (not just parents).  However, in 2015 concern about smoking and tobacco use dropped from #4 in 2014 to #7 in 2015.

Other child health concerns rated as a “big problem” in 2015 for children and teens across the U.S. include: unsafe neighborhoods (40%), alcohol abuse (39%), sexually transmitted infections including HIV/AIDS (38%), depression (38%), suicide (37%), hunger (34%), not enough opportunities for physical activity (31%), gun-related injuries (30%), motor vehicle accidents (30%), attention deficit disorder (26%), autism (24%), safety of medications (17%) safety of vaccines (15%) infant mortality (13%) and food allergies ( 13%).

Although hunger and infant mortality were perceived less often as “big problems” than other health concerns for kids across the U.S., these opinions changed when respondents were presented with current statistics on hunger and infant mortality. After current information was presented about the number of children affected, hunger was rated as a “big problem” for children in the U.S. by 54% of respondents (up from 34%), and infant mortality was rated as a “big problem” by 23% of adults (up from 13%).

Differences in Perceptions of “Big Problems” by Race/Ethnicity

While groups of white, black and Hispanic adults all list childhood obesity and bullying among the top three child health issues, Hispanic adults list child abuse and neglect as the #3 health concern for kids across the U.S. (Figure 2). Black adults list depression #4, alcohol abuse #7 and hunger as #10 in the top 10 health concerns (Figure 3).

Implications

As the National Poll on Children’s Health measures the views of adults in the U.S. about child health issues each year, different pictures emerge about the greatest concerns of communities.  Challenges such as obesity, bullying, and drug abuse remain the top three “big problems” for children’s health for the second year in a row.  However, adults from different racial/ethnic groups see many other health problems facing children in their communities quite differently.  This is a reminder that programs that use a “one-size-fits-all” approach may not be successful in addressing communities’ child health concerns.  Instead, taking differences in community perceptions into account can be a key to successful connections with communities and their concerns. 

Another major finding is that Internet safety increased as a concern for children’s health from 2014 to this year.  The perception of Internet safety as a major concern, along with rising concerns about sexting for children’s health, reflect growing public perception that youth access to the media environment in 2015 includes risks that worry many members of the public.

Moreover, we found this year that providing information about the number of children affected by specific health problems can change how the public perceives them.  For the quite different problems of hunger and infant mortality, providing the latest available data led more respondents to rate them as a “big problem” than before they had seen the data.  This suggests that levels of public concern may be affected by providing reliable information in a format that is easy to understand.

Data Source

This report presents findings from a nationally representative household survey conducted exclusively by GfK Custom Research, LLC (GfK), for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital via a method used in many published studies.  The survey was administered in May 2015 to a randomly selected, stratified group of adults age 18 and older (n=1,982) from GfK’s web-enabled KnowledgePanel® 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 60% among the panel members contacted to participate. The margin of error is ± 3 to 4 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: Amilcar Matos-Moreno, 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.

 

Questions were answered by adults age 18 and older.

Q1. Think about children and teens in the U.S.

How big of a problem do you feel the following health issues are for children and teens across the United States?

Big problem Somewhat of a problem Not a problem
1 2 3


1. Alcohol abuse
2. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD/ADD)
3. Autism
4. Bullying
5. Child abuse and neglect
6. Childhood obesity
7. Depression
8. Drug abuse
9. Gun related injuries
10. Food allergies
11. Hunger
12. Internet safety
13. Motor vehicle accidents
14. Not enough opportunities for physical activity
15. Illnesses that can be prevented by vaccines
16. Infant mortality
17. Safety of medications
18. Safety of vaccines
19. School violence
20. Sexting
21. Sexually transmitted infections (including HIV/AIDS)
22. Smoking and tobacco use
23. Suicide
24. Stress
25. Teen pregnancy
26. Unsafe neighborhoods

Participants were also asked demographic questions on 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: Amilcar Matos-Moreno, MPH
Web Editor: Anna Daly Kauffman, BA

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Figure 1: Top 10 U.S. Children's Health Concerns Rated as a "Big Problem" by Adults in 2015
Figure 2: Top 10 U.S. Children's Health Concerns Rated as a "Big Problem" by Hispanic Adults in 2015
Figure 3: Top 10 U.S. Children's Health Concerns Rated as a "Big Problem" by Black Adults in 2015
Figure 4: Top 10 U.S. Children's Health Concerns Rated as a "Big Problem" by White Adults in 2015

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