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'Crunch time' poll: Parents don't recognize kids are overweight

February 26, 2013|By Eryn Brown | This post has been corrected, as indicated below.
  • Parents may not recognize when their kids are overweight, a new poll suggests. Here, a 9-year-old exercises with weights.
Parents may not recognize when their kids are overweight, a new poll suggests.… (John Moore/Getty Images )

Many American parents can't see that their kids are overweight, according to a poll released Monday.

According to the survey, which was conducted by National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, only 15% of parents interviewed said that their children were a little or very overweight. National studies have shown that about a third of children in the U.S. -- twice as many as the poll responses reflected -- are overweight or obese.

By the same token, only 20% of kids in polled households had a caregiver that was concerned that the child would grow up to be an overweight adult. Currently, 69% of American adults are overweight or obese.

"People often have a hard time making the connection between national problems and their own families," said polling team member Gillian SteelFisher of the Harvard School of Public Health, in a statement.

The poll in question was intended to focus on the role that behavior during "crunch time" -- the crucial hours between 3 p.m. and bedtime -- plays in childhood obesity. During those hours, coauthors wrote in a summary of their poll results, parents and other adults in the household may have more control over kids' eating and activities (including exercise and sleep routines.)  But since "crunch time" tends to be a busy time, filled with extracurricular activities and homework and preparation for the next day at school, it isn't always easy to make sure kids eat well and engage in health-promoting activities.

In October and November of 2012, the team polled more than a thousand caregivers (87% of whom were parents) of kids ages 2 to 17 from all over the U.S.  Nearly all children live with parents who agreed that it's important that kids eat in a way that helps them keep a healthy weight and that kids exercise. But more than a third of kids have parents who said they found it difficult to make sure their kids eat well and exercise.

Most parents also agreed that it's important for families to eat together, but nearly half said they found this, too, to be difficult to pull off -- either because of work schedules, school schedules, or other activities. Among families who had eaten together the night before polling, nearly a quarter had the TV on during the meal, or reported that someone used a cellphone, a laptop or an iPod during dinner.

More poll results available at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation website.

[For the record, Feb. 26, 4:20 p.m.: An earlier version of this post said that currently 69% of American adults are obese. It was corrected to say "overweight or obese."]

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