By BRIAN SMITH
Parker County parents are showing more interest in helping their children become healthier, the results of a 2012 survey released Nov. 12 shows.
The Community Wide Children’s Health Assessment and Planning Survey, which was started by Cook’s Children’s Hospital in 2008, was released during the Parker County Health Summit at the Doss Heritage and Culture Center. The findings from the 2012 survey showed some improvements over the 2008 survey.
Nearly 350 parents, or about 19 percent of the county, responded according to Larry Tubb, executive director of the Center for Children’s Health at Cook’s, which sponsored the survey. Parents of children ages 0-14 were surveyed, and 93 percent of them rated their children’s overall health as excellent or very good, compared to 85 percent in 2008.
About 32 percent of children are obese or overweight, the same as in 2008.
The Healthy Children Coalition for Parker County, which was formed last year as a result of the survey, chose obesity as the childhood problem it wanted to focus on, according to Michelle Buchanan with the Weatherford Center of Hope.
“We saw where we in Parker County had a very high overweight and obese population and also a high amount of children with a large amount of computer time,” Buchanan said. “We also had the lowest amount of children (among the six counties surveyed) of parents talking to children about their eating, so it seemed a simple concept for us to address.”
Tubb said the percentage of parents talking to their children about eating healthy has doubled from 25 percent to 50 percent in the last four years. Part of the increase is due to a change in thinking, Tubb said.
“The mindset on (childhood obesity) used to be that it was something they’d outgrow,” Tubb said. “More and more parents are seeing that it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.”
In the 2012 survey, 87 percent of parents said their children eat healthy meals regularly, up from 79 percent in 2008. The statistic, Tubb said, may be somewhat skewed as 10 percent of parents surveyed also said their children had no veggies or fruits in their meal the previous evening.
Obesity, which is linked to bullying, spending too much time on a computer and having behavioral problems in school, was only one area the coalition addressed.
About five of every six parents said their children get regular dental care, with a sharp increase in having their teeth cleaned leading the charge. Unfortunately, Tubb said, the number of parents who think dental care affects general health has gone down.
The mental health portion of the survey has parents noting fewer children reporting being bullied in school, partially due to an increased awareness of the problem and the fact that more schools are willing to address it, Tubb said. Parents are also talking more about cyberbullying and instructing children on how to be safer on the Internet.
Childhood safety is something that has declined in two areas over the last four years. More kids are admitting going into foster care, from zero percent in 2008 to 3.4 percent in 2012. In 2008, 4 percent of parents admitted Child and Protective Services had been to their homes; in 2012 it was 7.8 percent.
Tubb said the increase might also be due to the question being worded vaguely in 2008.
Coalition members are trying to do something about the obesity problem. The coalition has started the 5-2-1-0 program (five servings of fruits and vegetables, less than two hours of fun computer time a day, one hour of exercise per day and no sugary drinks, with an increased emphasis on water consumption.
Kristi Cross, an outreach coordinator with Green Apple Therapy, said the program tries to be as interactive as possible. A family cooking night is scheduled for Crockett Elementary parents and students Feb. 21 to teach parents and students how to eat healthy as well as ways to eat healthy on any budget.
Crockett PTO President Tracy Dixon, who also volunteers regularly at the school, says it’s “unsettling” to see what students are putting into their mouths.
“Kids are putting chocolate chip granola bars and Big Red in their mouths and considering that lunch from home,” Dixon said.
County Extension Agent Kathy Smith said she has taken the program to local Head Start classes, hoping to start children eating healthy at a young age with good results.
“We read the children stories about apples, and then we had the kids make an apple tree out of construction paper,” she said. “We plan on going back to teach about the other numbers as well.”
Further details on the survey results can be found at centerforchildrenshealth.org. Ideas for helping children eat healthier can be found at letsgo.org.