Americans Expect Schools to Lead in Preventing Childhood Obesity

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Americans view obesity as a serious problem among both the overall public and among children and teens, and most people believe that local K-12 schools need to take a leading role in combating the epidemic, according to a recent survey conducted by Field Research Corp.

Nationwide, 78 percent of parents think that healthier food in schools will increase academic performance and a similar percentage say that regular physical activity during the school day will also boost school achievement.

More than eight in 10 Americans endorse new national school nutrition standards established by the US Department of Agriculture that include more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less sodium, saturated and trans fats in meals. They also voice strong support for extending USDA standards to foods that children can buy at school outside of meal times.

Survey results also indicated that Americans believe their local K-12 schools should play the biggest community role in fighting obesity, with 90 percent endorsing a school role on this issue. The public also expresses a high degree of willingness to take actions to reduce obesity in their own lives, in the lives of family members and in their own communities.  

These are the findings from a survey conducted by Field Research Corp. on behalf of Kaiser Permanente from March 5 to April 14, 2013. Conducted by telephone in English and Spanish among 2,104 adults nationwide and across four major states and regions of the country, the survey sought to take the public's pulse to assess views on childhood obesity, and actions schools and communities could take to combat the epidemic.

"These findings confirm there is widespread support for school and community involvement in combating childhood obesity," said Mark DiCamillo, senior vice president of Field Research Corp. and director of the non-partisan Field Poll. "The results show a strong desire on the part of Americans to take actions to reduce obesity in their own lives, the lives of their families and in local communities."

Survey respondents also offer broad-based support for policies aimed at building more sidewalks, paths, trails and bike lanes to enable more children to walk and bike to school.

As part of a commitment to the total health and well-being of children and communities, Kaiser Permanente is engaged in a wide array of clinical and community-based efforts to combat the childhood obesity epidemic. The organization supports more than 40 community health initiatives, a major element of Kaiser Permanente's multifaceted Healthy Eating/Active Living program, designed to address the obesity epidemic and other health issues that can result from poor nutrition and lack of exercise.

"Kaiser Permanente is committed to working with schools to improve the health of children, staff and the broader community," said Raymond J. Baxter, PhD, Kaiser Permanente's senior vice president for Community Benefit, Research and Health Policy. "These survey results underscore the importance of taking action now to improve the environments in which we live, work, learn and play."

Additional details of the survey findings include:

Strong support for community groups and organizations to be involved in reducing obesity

Three in four Americans (74 percent) believe that community groups and organizations should be involved in reducing obesity, and that it's not a family or personal issue only. However, most people gave their own community poor grades on efforts to reduce obesity. Nine in 10 respondents say local K-12 schools should play a role in reducing obesity in their community, of whom 64 percent say the schools should take a major role.

New USDA school nutrition standards broadly endorsed

Eighty-three percent of Americans favor the new USDA school nutrition standards for meals served to students and 71 percent endorse extending new standards to foods kids can buy in school other than mealtime.

Differences across ethnic populations

Larger proportions of African Americans (84 percent) and Latinos (82 percent) than others believe community groups and organizations should be involved in reducing obesity. Latinos (93 percent) and African Americans (87 percent) are also more likely to endorse the new USDA school nutrition standards than other ethnic populations.

Differences across selected states and regions

The views of residents in California, Colorado, the Greater Washington DC Area and the Pacific Northwest are generally similar to those of the overall U.S. public on most of the issues polled. Some areas where differences are found across these states and regions include the following:

-Californians are somewhat more likely than others to describe obesity as a very serious problem and to say that community groups and organizations outside the family should be involved in combating the problem. 

-Californians, along with residents of the Pacific Northwest, are also somewhat more apt to think it is highly important for schools to increase opportunities for kids to walk and bike to school.

-Both California adults and residents of the Greater Washington D.C. Area are more likely than others to strongly endorse the new USDA school nutrition standards for meals served in school.

-While Coloradans are just as likely to believe that K-12 schools should be involved in obesity-reduction efforts, fewer believe employers and government should be playing a major role in these efforts.