Nearly Seven out of 10 Chicago Parents Report a Challenge in Healthy Eating for Their Kids

June 14, 2019

Top three challenges were time for sit-down family meals, cost of healthy foods, and time to prepare healthy foods

Nearly seven out of 10 Chicago parents reported at least one challenge to healthy eating for their children, according to results of a new survey released by Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH). Having enough time for sit-down family meals was the top challenge identified by 36 percent of parents, followed by cost of healthy foods (33 percent), and time to prepare healthy foods (26 percent). Other challenges to their children’s healthy eating identified by Chicago parents include convenience of fast food (24 percent) and food advertising (18 percent).

“In our survey, we heard that the majority of parents across Chicago face obstacles when trying to help their kids eat healthy meals,” says Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP, Senior Vice-President and Chief of Community Health Transformation at Lurie Children’s, and Professor of Pediatrics, Medicine, Medical Social Sciences, and Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “These challenges might be important factors behind rates of childhood obesity in Chicago, which are higher than national rates.”

In Chicago, obesity occurs in 20 percent of kindergarteners, nearly 30 percent of sixth-graders and over 25 percent of ninth-graders, compared to national rates of 13 percent, 20 percent and 17 percent, respectively, according to the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC) that is housed at Lurie Children’s.

Cost was one of the common challenges among younger parents, cited by 42 percent of parents who were 18-29 years old, compared to 33 percent of parents who were 30-44 years old and 24 percent of parents over 45 years old.

Additionally, Latinx parents experienced four of the five challenges more frequently than Non-Latinx Black parents and Non-Latinx White parents.

“From parents’ perspectives, time and cost are the overall drivers of unhealthy eating in Chicago children. These are especially big challenges for certain families,” says Dr. Davis. “Ultimately, parents need support to address their concerns about healthy eating habits for children.”

Survey results are based on the 2017-18 Healthy Chicago Survey, Jr., that was developed by Dr. Davis in collaboration with the CDPH Office of Epidemiology and Research. Phone interviews were conducted with 3,310 adults, including 1,002 parents, December 2017 through June 2018. Households across Chicago were randomly selected, with participants in all 77 community areas.

“Habits of healthy eating and physical activity are important to establish in childhood,” says CDPH Commissioner Julie Morita, MD. “If Chicago can successfully address barriers that parents experience in helping their kids eat healthy, we are helping the people of Chicago be healthier in the long term.”

To share the survey results, Dr. Davis and his team at Lurie Children’s launched “Voices of Child Health in Chicago,” a research program focused on bringing the perspectives of Chicagoans to inform dialogue and action about child health in the city. On a regular basis, data briefs will be issued that report on a wide range of survey result topics that affect youth health.

Population-focused child health research at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is conducted through the Mary Ann & J. Milburn Smith Child Health Research, Outreach, and Advocacy Center at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of new knowledge. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals in the U.S. News & World Report. It is the pediatric training ground for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Last year, the hospital served more than 212,000 children from 49 states and 51 countries.