NPR Report Sheds Light on Children's Exercise, Food Choices

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • NPR, in conjunction with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, conducted a survey of parents to learn about children’s eating and exercise patterns between 3 p.m. and bedtime. “Compared to the school day, this may be a time when parents and other adults in the household have more influence over what their children eat and do, but it is also a busy time when many are racing home from work, arranging for their children’s extracurricular activities, trying to monitor homework, and getting ready for the next day,” the NPR report states.

    The findings offer an interesting take on what may – and may not -- be going on. For instance, there seems to be a disconnect between parents’ views and the reality of their children’s situation. While 81 percent of adults in a Gallup Poll said think obesity is a serious problem for society, only 20 percent of the parents who responded to the NPR poll said they were concerned that their child will be overweight as an adult. In general, most parents (73 percent) said their children were at “about the right weight” while 14 percent described their children as “a little overweight” and 1 percent said their children were “very overweight.” In comparison, national data suggests that 32 percent are overweight; of those, 17 percent who are obese. Forty percent of parents who said their children were currently overweight told pollsters they were not very or not at all concerned about their children’s weight.

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    Here are some other interesting findings:

    • Good intentions are not enough to help children eat a healthy diet and exercise. While 95 percent of parents believe it’s important that their child eats in a way to maintain a healthy weight, 44 percent said they had difficulty in getting their children to eat in this way.  Ninety-five percent of the survey respondents said it was important for their children to get enough exercise to maintain or achieve a healthy weight; however, 36 percent reported difficulty in getting their children to exercise in this way.
    • Parents give lots of reasons for their children’s unhealthy eating. Sixty percent of the parents reported that their children ate or drank something that could lead to unhealthy weight gain sometime between 3 p.m. and bedtime.  However, 79 percent of the parents said they didn’t mind if their children consumed this food or beverage as long as they eat healthfully most of the time. Seventy-three percent said taste was the primary reason that the children opted for this food or drink. Other reasons given for the choice of this food or drink was lack of preparation time (16 percent), access of the food in the house (15 percent), ease of the food and beverage since the family was on the go (14 percent), cost (11 percent), lack of adult supervision (7 percent) and the parent’s being too tired to make or get different food (6 percent).
    • Parents also offer lots of reasons for their children’s lack of exercise. Twenty-eight percent of parents reported their children didn’t get enough physical activity between 3 p.m. and bedtime. Some parents said that was because their children had exercised enough earlier in the day. However, 15 percent of parents said there were other reasons behind the lack of exercise. Of these parents, the reasons that were given included difficulty fitting into the schedule (49 percent), children’s preference for other activities (46 percent), cost of classes, team equipment or gym fees (21 percent), access to a location to exercise (12 percent), access to a location safe from traffic (10 percent) and access to a location safe from crime (8 percent).
    • There seems to be a disconnect between parents’ view of the children’s eating habits and what they actually eat. Eighty-seven percent of parents said their children consumed food and drink between 3 p.m. and bedtime on a given day that helped maintain or achieve a healthy weight. However, 48 percent of the parents reported that the children had at least some sweet such as candy, cupcakes, cookies or ice cream. Twenty-seven percent of the parents said their children ate potato, tortilla or corn chips. Eighteen-percent of the parents described these amounts of food as being small in most cases.

    Hopefully, this poll will cause parents to remove the rose-colored glasses and really look long and hard at their own children’s eating habits and exercise efforts. While the reasons mentioned for children’s not eating healthily and exercising are problematic, they should not be seen as unmovable barriers to parents who are truly committed to making the pursuit of good health a priority for their family.

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  • NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health. (2013). A poll about children and weight: crunch time during the American work and school week – 3 p.m. to bed.

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Published On: February 25, 2013