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Who decides which child health concerns matter most?

Aug 21, 2012

Doctors and public health professionals certainly have a lot to say about children's health, and parent's do too. But how do these concerns translate into policies or programs tasked with doing something to make kids healthier? Well-that's more of a free for all.

Every year, the University of Michigan's C. S. Mott Children's Hospital does a survey on childhood health concerns. They ask adults, both parents and non-parents alike, to state their health concerns for the children in their community. This year, lack of exercise was number one on the list of top-ten child health concerns.  Obesity and smoking rounded out the top three health concerns for kids.

But do these adults really know what the concerns for kids are? Certainly, there are a lot of kids who are not exercising regularly? About 50% of kids in Michigan do not exercise regularly, according to Kids Count, making it partly responsible for the rise in obesity (which stands around 30% for kids in the state). A lack of healthy food or even just eating school lunches are also partly to blame for obesity.

Other health concerns making the top-ten this year are stress, teen-pregnancy and bullying.

But, the people surveyed aren't experts, so why does this list matter?

Well, according to Dr. Matthew Davis, the pediatrician in charge of the study the survey helps doctors and policy makers know which health programs might be popular enough with the public to be successful.

"The public voice should be part of the national conversation about health priorities about children. If we don't know what the public will support or endorse," he continues, "then we don't know what's going to happen when we try to roll out programs in communities."

The reality may be that even if a lack of exercise isn't really the thing most affecting children's health (there are still high rates of problems like low-birth weight, asthma, and abuse for example,) it's something people might be willing to do something about.

And while addressing a lack of exercise will certainly be beneficial for kids, it might not be enough to really improve their health.

"There are other concerns that may not seem immediately like "health concerns" such as poverty, that may be sitting behind these top-ten health concerns," says Davis. "That means if we were more successful in addressing children's poverty we may be equally, or even more successful, in addressing their health concerns.