A growing number of US adults consider childhood obesity to be a major problem, but most do not believe that the food industry is to blame through its marketing and advertising, according to a new survey.
Conducted by Harris Interactive for the Wall Street Journal Online, the survey reveals that 81 percent of Americans believe children are becoming obese because parents are not paying enough attention to their eating habits.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children considered to be overweight doubled from 7 percent to 14 percent between 1981 and 2001. And the most recent figures from the American Obesity Association reveal that around 16 percent of US children are currently classed as obese.
The recent online survey, which gathered responses from 2,078 adults at the end of June this year, revealed that childhood obesity is considered a "major problem" by 84 percent of the population, up from 77 percent last year.
Interestingly, parents of children under the age of 12, who were surveyed separately, were less likely to view the growing epidemic as a "major problem" , with a comparative 74 percent agreeing with the statement.
The survey also found that US adults are divided on the government's role in addressing obesity in children. Just over half of respondents said the government should take companies to court if they mislead children and their parents about the nutritional value of foods, while 39 percent disagreed.
Fifty-three percent said the government should play a more active role in regulating the food industry's marketing toward children, compared with 42 percent who disagreed with this statement.
And only a third of adults agreed that local governments should use zoning regulations to limit fast-food restaurants near schools, compared with 61 percent who disagreed.
One issue that was at the top of most people's agenda, however, was the type of foods available to children at school.
Some 83 percent of adults agreed that public schools should do more to limit students' access to unhealthy foods, like snack foods, sugary soft drinks and fast food.
Indeed, this is a concern that has already been acted on to some degree, and continues to be considered a priority. Elementary schools in Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, and West Virginia have already banned the sale of junk food in schools until at least after lunch. And other states have gone even further. Hawaii bans junk food in all schools all day. Florida bans the sale of junk food in elementary schools all day, and in secondary schools until after lunch.
And a bill was recently introduced in Congress proposing a radical overhaul of the nutritional standards for foods sold in schools. The Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act of 2006 aims to revise the current definition of 'foods of minimal nutritional value' that are permitted for sale in schools. The current definition, which dates back to 1979 and which focuses on whether a food has at least minimal amounts of one of eight nutrients, has been accused of being obsolete. The new definition is designed to conform to current nutrition science.
Such measures are indeed necessary as the growing obesity epidemic is leading to worrying levels of related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
The American Heart Association recently released nutritional guidelines for children, underlining that arteriosclerosis begins at a young age, and that those who follow a poor diet and take too little exercise may already have a build-up of plaque in the arteries by adolescence.
Furthermore, type 2 Diabetes, which used to be known as adult onset diabetes, is now increasingly being diagnosed in kids, adding to the cardiovascular risk profile of children.
Children's obesity has gained significant attention in the health care and child welfare arenas over the past five years. Worldwide over 22 million children under five are severely overweight. Experts say junk food and low exercise levels, combined with the popularity of computer games and television, are behind the growing obesity rates.