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Massachusetts Medical Society's Physician Focus

October 2015

Children’s Health:
The Major Problems


  • For nine years, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan has conducted a survey of adults about what they think are the major health risks facing children.
  • The top three issues in the 2015 survey are the same as those reported in 2014: childhood obesity, bullying, and drug abuse, with rising concerns about issues surrounding the use of social media.
  • While the poll reflects adult and parental perceptions, pediatricians call attention to critical issues not listed in the poll, such as poverty, mental health, unintentional injuries, and sleep.

The annual national poll on children’s health from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital of the University of Michigan Health System provides a useful guide on what adults and parents think are the major health risks facing children every year.

The 2015 poll lists the following as the top 10 “big problems” facing children: childhood obesity, bullying, drug abuse, internet safety, child abuse and neglect, sexting, smoking and tobacco use, school violence, teen pregnancy, and stress.

The pediatricians who care for children, however, bring a wider perspective to child health and have some additional thoughts on the problems facing children. To provide the physician’s views on the poll and child health issues, the October episode of Physician Focus features a conversation between pediatricians Lynda Young, M.D. and Elizabeth Goodman, M.D.

Dr. Young, the host for this program, is a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at UMass Medical School in Worcester and a past president of the Massachusetts Medical Society. Dr. Goodman is Associate Chief for Community-Based Research at MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston, a Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The text below offers some highlights from their conversation.

“It’s not surprising to see these issues listed,” says Dr. Goodman. “These are important health issues for today’s children.” But both doctors acknowledge that the results of any poll can be highly influenced by personal experience and, particularly, media attention.

“Many of the issues [raised in the poll] are what we’ve been hearing about week after week, night after night on the news,” Dr. Goodman says.

Dr. Goodman also notes that most of the top 10 issues in the poll reflect issues for adolescents, age 10 and up, with one notable exception: child abuse and neglect, a problem for children of all ages.

From the pediatrician’s viewpoint, however, some of the most serious health risks facing children are those not included in the poll. Among them: unintentional injuries, poverty, mental health, and sleep.

Unintentional injuries, such as motor vehicle accidents and poisonings, remain the number one cause of death for children of all ages. Poverty, which affects up to 25 percent of children nationally, can influence a child’s physical and mental health, nutrition, and overall well-being.

Mental health issues, which may be related to substance abuse, can be exhibited by behavioral and conduct disorders, anxiety and depression. And sleep - or more accurately lack of sleep – can affect everything from physiological functions to weight, to moods, to how children grow and develop.

Health risks for children, however, as Dr. Young notes, are not created in a vacuum. “Adults play a huge role in modeling behavior,” she says, and adult attitudes and actions can profoundly influence children’s tendencies to such behaviors as smoking, drug abuse, bullying, and violence.

To prosper and develop, Dr. Goodman says “children need three things. They need stable, nurturing relationships; healthy nutrition; and a safe, supportive environment. The concerns reflected in the poll are the things we see when those three things aren’t there.”

And while both doctors agree that the issues contained in the poll are serious and deserve attention, they also believe that parents, health providers, and children would do well to pay additional attention to the problems that doctors see from year to year: poverty, mental health, sleep, and unintentional injuries.

View the video above for the complete discussion, including additional conversation about how children are affected by social media; how drug abuse is related to mental health issues; the advantages and disadvantages of stress on a child; the continuing impact of smoking and tobacco on young people and the new challenges of ‘vaping’; and what parents can do to reduce the risks of the number one cause of child death – unintentional injuries.

MMS/Richard Gulla

American Academy of Pediatrics

AAP Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight

Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids

Partnership for Drug Free Kids

School Violence / Centers for Disease Control

C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital Poll

"Child Health" PSA

From left, Lynda Young, M.D., Elizabeth Goodman, M.D.
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