The majority of American parents believe that exercise is more important than diet to combat childhood obesity, according to new research from Mintel, despite recent evidence to the contrary.
The market research organization’s findings come shortly after a study presented at the European Congress on Obesity suggested that increased calorie intake, rather than lack of exercise, was nearly exclusively to blame for the US obesity epidemic. The relative importance of diet and exercise has long been debated, but researcher Professor Boyd Swinburn of Australia’s Deakin University said that children are just as active today as they were in the 1970s. Excess intake of calories alone is responsible for childhood obesity, he said.
In contrast, Mintel found that although 72 percent of parents surveyed thought that children have too much access to junk food, 69 percent said they believed lack of exercise has more to do with obesity. Two in five parents surveyed were worried that their child might become obese.
Senior analyst at Mintel Marcia Mogelonsky said: “Parents aren't sure where to focus first to ensure their children's health – diet, exercise or both simultaneously."
They may be unsure about where to focus their attention, but most parents blame themselves if children are overweight, said Mogelonsky.
“Seventy-eight percent of parents believe the fault lies with them, yet most seek more information on nutrition so they can improve their children's health,” she said.
Ninety-five percent of parents surveyed said they thought discussing healthy eating with their children was very or somewhat important, but only 82 percent said they felt very or somewhat successful in doing so.
The food and beverage industry has been under pressure to take some responsibility for obesity in recent years and has tended to take a dual approach, by both reformulating products to contain less saturated fat and sugar (as well as salt), and by promoting physical activity.
Twelve percent of American children aged two to 19 are overweight or obese, a figure the government has said it hopes to reduce to five percent by 2010.