Racial and ethnic communities in the United States prioritize health concerns differently and addressing those concerns in culturally-specific ways may be beneficial, new results from the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health show.

While U.S. adults ranked childhood obesity overall as the top concern, that isn't telling the whole story. It was first among whites and among Hispanics but for black adults obesity in children ranked sixth. Black parents (40%) listed smoking as their top health concern. Drug abuse was 34 percent, school violence was 33 percent while sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy rounded out the top 5. 

The annual University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health was made up of 1,996 nationally representative respondents. Adults were asked to identify the top 10 biggest health concerns for kids in their communities. Overall, childhood obesity was rated at the top of the list, with 38 percent, while drug abuse was at 34 percent and smoking and tobacco use were at 32 percent.

The top three health issues for whites matched the averages, no surprise since whites made up the majority of the respondents. Hispanics rated childhood obesity highest, at 47 percent, but bullying was in the number two spot with 43 percent and drug abuse third was at 39 percent.

The strong link of many of the top 10 child health concerns to health behaviors of children and their families indicates that the public understands the powerful role of behavior in health – in terms of short-term impact and long-term consequences, says Matthew M. Davis, M.D., M.A.P.P., director of the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health and associate professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School.

Overall, the concerns were:

  1. Childhood obesity
  2. Drug abuse
  3. Smoking and tobacco use
  4. Bullying
  5. Stress
  6. Alcohol abuse
  7. Child abuse and neglect
  8. Teen pregnancy
  9. Internet safety
  10. Depression

"Childhood obesity remains a top concern, but it is essential to look at differences in perception based on race and ethnicity," says Davis. "Medical and public health providers should be aware that different communities could have different priorities about what health problems are most important.

"Messaging from medical professionals, through public health programs and in the popular media about the risks of childhood obesity is widespread. Recent data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that rates of obesity in early childhood may be decreasing for the first time in some states, which may be attributable to the high level of concern and responses from parents, families and communities.

"Still, we know obesity among children remains substantially higher than it was in generations past. So this poll presents good news that much of the public recognizes the need to keep working hard on this problem."

Davis says he hopes the results of this poll shine a light on how different communities prioritize the threats to children's health in their own communities.

"Not all groups see through the same lens. The differences we see based on race and ethnicity likely reflect street-level realities. To be successful, programs will likely need to respect and address community-specific health priorities for improving and safeguarding child health," he says.