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Survey: Parents most concerned
about children's emotional health

By Brigid Gaffikin, Bay City News Service

January 12, 2007

A new survey by the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health suggests Bay Area parents are concerned about their children's emotional health above other potential worries such as weight, leisure activities or exposure to drugs or alcohol.

Interviews with almost 1,800 parents of children up to age 17 in six Bay Area counties - Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara -- were conducted in English and Spanish in the summer of 2006.

Researchers asked parents about their perceptions of their children's emotional, physical and behavioral health. The survey also asked parents about their children's experiences at school and about environmental factors such as media and family income.

While almost three-quarters of parents interviewed rated their children's physical health as excellent, just over half of the parents, or 53 percent, said the same of their emotional health. Parents of teens were even less upbeat, with only 42 percent of parents of those aged 14 to 17 describing their teens' emotional health in the same terms.

Perceptions of emotional health varied according to household income and race or ethnicity. Some 42 percent of parents in homes with an annual household income of less than $50,000 said their child's overall emotional health was excellent, a drop of more than 20 percentage points compared to parents in households with annual incomes of more than $100,000, according to the survey.

Household income difference played out across the range of questions about emotional health, from parents' perceptions of their children's ability to get along with their peers to impressions of children's ability "to see life in a positive way.'' Parents with the highest incomes were generally the most positive.

Stress was a major concern for parents, who described children as young as 3 to 5 years old as stressed. Overall, the older a child, the more likely parents were to say he or she experienced a "moderate" or "high" amount of stress.

Homework and schoolwork were pegged as two primary sources of this anxiety, with 64 percent of parents saying schoolwork and homework contributed "somewhat" or "very much" to their children's stress levels.

Race and ethnicity also affected how parents saw their children's emotional well-being. More white parents than Latino or Asian-American parents, for example, said their child's overall emotional health was excellent. Depression also factored into parents' anxieties, with about a quarter of parents of teenagers saying they were concerned about their child being depressed.

Significantly more Latino parents -- 31 percent -- shared that concern no matter what the child's age. Parents in household with larger annual incomes were less likely to express anxiety about their children and depression.

Although the overwhelming majority of parents said they were satisfied with their children's physical health, nearly a quarter of all parents surveyed expressed some level of concern about their child's weight.

In terms of physical health, income also correlated with weight concerns, with 9 percent of parents with annual household incomes above $100,000 saying their children were overweight, compared with 19 percent of respondents whose incomes were below $50,000.

Latino parents also were less likely than white parents to say their children's overall physical health was excellent and to give their health care the highest marks.

And while the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children see a dentist by age 1, some 81 percent of parents with kids under 3 said their children had never seen a dentist. Around three-quarters of children over 3 had visited a dentist in the six months prior to the survey.

A February 2006 study by the Dental Health Foundation said that almost two-thirds of California's children suffer dental decay by third grade and as many as 750,000 elementary school children in California may have untreated dental problems. Untreated dental disease can lead to oral health disorders that can be severe enough to cause children to lose sleep and the ability to concentrate and to skip school.

According to the Packard Foundation survey, 17 percent of parents don't have dental health insurance for their children, including 25 percent of Latino parents.

The survey also found that some 14 percent of children living in households with an annual income of less than $50,000 did not have medical health insurance.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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