Print this Article

Field Poll Finds Growing Concern Regarding Kids’ Unhealthy Eating Habits, Lack of Physical Activity

By Mark DiCamillo and Mervin Field, Field Research Corporation - February 20, 2014

When The Field Poll first began tracking public perceptions of the health risks facing the state's children for The California Endowment (TCE) ten years ago, two concerns were cited more frequently than all others – unhealthy eating or a lack of physical activity, mentioned by 53%, and illegal drug use (49%).

However, according to the latest TCE-Field survey (released on Feb. 12) the proportion of Californians citing unhealthy eating or a lack of physical activity among kids' top two health risks has grown over the past ten years to 59%, and now far outranks the next highest ranking concern, illegal drug use (43%) by a considerable margin. Next most frequently mentioned is the threat of violence to children cited by 31%.

Other survey findings show overwhelming public support for making fresh drinking water freely available in schools, parks and public buildings, and enacting policies to increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in low-income neighborhoods. Voters also think it's important for food and beverage companies to change a number of their marketing policies to help reduce obesity and diabetes. In addition, greater than six in ten think it's highly important for Medi-Cal to cover exercise and other organized physical activity programs.

By wide margins Californians also feel it's highly important to involve local community health workers in the fight to help reduce diabetes and to cover these services under Medi-Cal. While majorities of voters across all income and racial subgroups feel this way, lower income voters and Latinos are the subgroups most likely to say this.

These are the findings from part one of the latest TCE-Field Obesity and Diabetes Prevention Survey conducted among 1,002 registered voters throughout California by telephone in English and Spanish November 14-December 5, 2013.

"These findings are a clear indication that there is a longstanding groundswell of concern among California voters about the related epidemics of diabetes and obesity. Voters strongly support interventions that will reduce risks for these conditions, such as assess to free clean drinking water and community health workers to help people live healthier lives in healthier places," states Dr. George Flores of The California Endowment.

The Field Poll first began tracking public perceptions of the health risks facing the state's children for TCE in 2003. At that time when Californians were asked to name the top two health risks facing California kids, unhealthy eating or a lack of physical activity were mentioned most frequently by 53%, followed by illegal drug use at 49%. (Note: Percentages add to more than 100% due to multiple mentions)

When asked the same question in the latest TCE-Field Poll, the proportion of voters citing unhealthy eating or a lack of physical activity now far surpasses illegal drug use and all other concerns. At present, 59% mention these obesity and diabetes risk factors, while the next most frequently cited health concern, illegal drug use, is cited by 43%. The threat of violence to children is cited next most frequently by 31%.

When the results are examined across the state's major regions, concerns about unhealthy eating or a lack of physical activity are greatest among voters in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County.

Nearly all Californians support the idea of making clean fresh drinking water freely available in schools in any area where students eat meals or are physically active (93%, including 82% who support this strongly). Similarly, 92% favor making fresh drinking water available in all local schools, parks and public buildings, with 78% strongly supportive.

There is strong support for providing incentives and enacting policies to increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetable in low-income neighborhoods. Nine in ten voters statewide (90%) favor such policies as a means to attract more farmers' markets and produce stands in low-income neighborhoods, of whom 70% are strongly supportive. In addition, 81% favor providing similar incentives to attract more supermarkets selling fresh fruits and vegetables in such neighborhoods, with 62% strongly in favor.

Six in ten voters (61%) attach high importance to providing Medi-Cal recipients access to exercise and other organized physical activity programs (like those offered by the YMCA or YWCA) as part of their covered services. While majorities of voters across all income categories and racial and ethnic subgroups believe this is highly important, lower-income voters and Latinos and ethnic voters are more likely than others to say this.

Voters in the survey were also asked how important they felt it was for food and beverage companies to take actions to help reduce diabetes by changing their marketing practices. Four specific proposals were tested and large majorities of Californians rate each as an important action to take. These include:

  1. Increasing their advertising and marketing of healthy, affordable foods and drinks like fruits and vegetables, whole grains and water to kids and teens (85%).
  2. Making healthy foods and drinks like fruits and vegetables, whole grains and water more affordable than unhealthy products (85%).
  3. Stopping the marketing of unhealthy products like high-calorie, fatty or salty foods, sodas and other sugary drinks to kids and teens (75%).
  4. Stopping the marketing of unhealthy products like high-calorie, fatty or salty foods, sodas and other sugary drinks on billboards in low-income communities (67%)

Increasingly, California communities are encouraging doctors and health professionals to team with community health workers to serve as go-betweens to strengthen communications between doctors and patients and to help patients, especially those with chronic conditions, to manage their care.

Voters in the current survey were asked how important they felt it was for these workers, sometimes referred to as patient’s navigators, patient advocates, outreach workers or community health representatives, to provide each of four specific obesity and diabetes prevention services to patients.

In each case, at least seven in ten voters considered community health worker services highly important in helping residents prevent and manage diabetes. These services include:

  1. Encouraging patients to be more physically active by developing appropriate exercise or walking routines (83%).
  2. Helping patients include more healthy foods and beverages into their diet (77%).
  3. Assisting patients in monitoring their medical conditions by checking blood pressure or blood sugar levels (73%).
  4. Serving as an advocate to promote better access to healthy foods and safe outdoor places in the community (70%).

Larger proportions of Latinos than other voters rated each of these services as being highly important.

Sources:  The Field Poll