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Parents Name Violence as Fastest-Growing Problem for Chicago’s Youth

May 20, 2020

Chicago parent survey also finds substance use, obesity and mental health-related disorders among top issues escalating rapidly in youth

Prior to COVID-19, Chicago parents identified violence (23 percent), substance use (16 percent), childhood obesity (14 percent) and mental health disorders (9 percent) as the top children’s social and health issues that are accelerating the fastest, according to the latest survey of parents released by Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH).

“Parents’ perceptions are essential to help direct our priorities for prevention and intervention programs,” says Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP, Interim Chair of Pediatrics 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. “Parents’ answers also demonstrate that challenges for youth in Chicago do not necessarily reflect youth health trends in other parts of the country. Here in Chicago, we must respond to the health needs of youth in our neighborhoods.”

In 2019, the number of homicides in Chicago decreased for the third year in a row. Despite this progress, parents in the survey felt violence, including gun violence, is still a top concern. Researchers also note that concern about violence may stem partly from growing realization that children’s exposures to violence at an early age influence mental and physical health for the rest of their lives.

National trends indicate that youth alcohol and drug use are decreasing, but Chicago parents cited substance use as the second most rapidly growing problem affecting youth. In particular, 29 percent of younger parents in the survey ages 18-29 years old indicated that substance use is a higher concern, compared to 14 percent of parents over age 30.

Survey respondents named obesity as the third fast-growing problem for youth. In Chicago, rates of childhood obesity remain higher than the national average. For example, 19 percent of Chicago’s public kindergarten students are obese, compared to 13 percent nationally, with the highest rates among Latinx children.

Mental health issues emerged as the fourth most-cited problem that parents believe is intensifying quickly in youth and adolescents. In a separate survey among Chicago Public Schools high school students, thirty-five percent who responded said they felt sad or hopeless for two weeks or more within the past year and 5 percent reported a suicide attempt.

Survey answers reported here are from the second wave of data collection through the Healthy Chicago Survey, Jr. (2018-19) that was developed by Dr. Davis in collaboration with the CDPH Office of Epidemiology and Research. Phone interviews were conducted with 2,982 adults, including 740 parents, December 2018 through May 2019. Households across Chicago were randomly selected, with participants in all 77 community areas. Compared to other questions on the survey asking parents to identify their top 10 social and health problems for Chicago’s children, responses described above were to a different question asking parents which problem was getting worse faster than others.

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 are 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 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 220,000 children from 48 states and 49 countries.