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Poll: Obesity, Not Drugs, Biggest Threat to Kids' Health

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Poll: Obesity, Not Drugs, Biggest Threat to Kids' Health

Picture of Annette Fuentes
The Bay Citizen
Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Unhealthy eating is the single biggest health problem California’s kids now face, according to a survey of voters released today. And obesity is considered a serious problem for youth by an overwhelming majority.

In a dramatic shift in public perception, 31 percent of voters surveyed for the latest Field Poll chose bad eating habits as the greatest risk, trumping illegal drug use (17 percent) and violence (13 percent). When the question was asked in two previous surveys, 27 percent named illegal drug use as the chief threat to kids’ health.

Overall, nearly 60 percent of those surveyed said that obesity is a very serious problem for California’s young people.

That growing awareness and concern about overweight kids and the health risks they face is the payoff of increased publicity, says Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll.

“There has been a lot more attention paid to the issues of obesity and healthy food,” Camillo said. “It is owed in part to First Lady Michelle Obama making that an issue.”

The Field Poll survey’s release was timed to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the launch of Obama’s national campaign to target childhood obesity and healthy eating. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 percent of the nation’s children and teens are considered obese, a trend that mushroomed throughout the 1980s and 1990s and has slowed in the last decade.

In California, obesity among youth 12 to 17 years old is 18.7 percent, according to statewide data from UCLA’s California Health Interview Survey.

DiCamillo noted that one of the survey’s other key findings showed that healthy eating is often directly tied to the availability of healthy foods. And that varies widely depending on the income levels of a community, he said.

“One of the striking things is that when we asked voters statewide how easy it is to find fresh food, 61 percent said it was pretty easy,” said DiCamillo. “But when you ask that of low-income voters, it is a different story.” A separate survey of parents in low-income communities found that just 19 percent of respondents said that it is easy to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Field Poll survey on obesity and healthy eating surveyed registered voters and was conducted in English and Spanish. It was funded by the California Endowment, which has targeted obesity through a number of initiatives that look at underlying issues influencing overweight and physical fitness.

One issue is that in some neighborhoods people don’t feel it is safe for them or their children to go outside for exercise, says Larry Cohen, executive director of the Prevention Institute, an Oakland-based nonprofit health policy group.

“In many communities we are working with, safety is fundamental for walking on the streets. But people don’t identify it as health issue,” he said. “On the one hand, there is increased awareness of overweight. On the other hand there is still a growing concern about violence prevention.”