Adults Across the City Identify the Top 10 Health Problems for Youth in Chicago

December 03, 2018

Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) conducted a telephone survey of 3,310 adult Chicagoans in 2017-2018. Individuals were asked what their biggest concerns were for the health of children in Chicago. Here we list the Top 10 health problems for children and adolescents in Chicago, as seen by the people of the city. 

Key Findings:

  • Chicago adults identified drug abuse, obesity, and child abuse & neglect as the biggest health problems facing children and adolescents in the city.
  • 7 of the 10 most commonly identified health problems for youth either involve mental health directly or are health conditions connected to mental health.
  • Parents with children in the household rated all of the health concerns in the survey as more problematic than people without children in the household.

Download the Report (PDF)


Information You Can Use

1. Drug Abuse | 64%

Drug abuse was the top health problem that adults in Chicago identified for kids' health in the city. Maria Rahmandar, MD, a specialist in Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Lurie Children's, points out that, "Parents are right to be worried about substance use and mental health of our adolescents, especially given the vulnerability of a teenager’s developing brain. Not all teens who try substances go on to become addicted, but the younger a person starts using, the higher their risk is of developing addiction."

Talking to teens about the risks of drug use can be a first step in preventing drug use. If you are concerned that a child in your life has a substance use disorder, you can call the CDPH helpline at 1-833-2FINDHELP and the national help line at 1-800-662-HELP.


2. Childhood Obesity | 62%

The second most common concern about child and adolescent health in Chicago was childhood obesity. Nearly half of Chicago's youth are overweight or obese.1 To help prevent childhood overweight and obesity, caregivers can encourage a healthy diet and regular exercise.


3. Child Abuse and Neglect | 61%

Lurie Children's Division of Child Abuse Pediatrics partners with local organizations to provide training on recognizing the signs of child maltreatment as a means of prevention through better detection. Lurie Children’s also teaches new parents about the Period of Purple Crying program, to help new parents better understand babies’ normal crying routines and reduce frustration over crying.

To foster nurturing relationships between caregivers and children, Lurie Children’s promotes positive parenting behaviors, which include praising children, being consistent, and setting positive, daily routines.

If you are concerned that a child you know is suffering from abuse or neglect, you can learn more about recognizing the signs of abuse and neglect and who to contact for help (in Illinois 1-800-25-ABUSE; outside of Illinois 1-800-4-A-CHILD).



4. Stress among Children and Teens | 60%

Children and teens may experience stress for various reasons including bullying, violence, and school pressures. You can find tips for how to recognize signs of stress in children and teens from the American Psychological Association.

One way Lurie Children's is addressing kids’ mental health needs is by partnering with CDPH and the city’s plan Healthy Chicago 2.0 to become a trauma-informed organization.2


5. Depression among Children and Teens | 58%

In 2017, over one third of Chicago high school students reported experiencing depressive symptoms in the last year. One way to help address youth depression and other mental health issues is to foster resilience, which is the ability to overcome challenges and setbacks. The Center for Childhood Resilience at Lurie Children's is working to build the resiliency of kids in the city and throughout Illinois, with a focus on under-served and under-represented populations.


6. Smoking and Tobacco | 53%

Although the number of Chicago high school students who smoke cigarettes has decreased, e-cigarettes have gained popularity.3 This is concerning because the use of e-cigarettes has been linked with increased likelihood of smoking cigarettes in the future.4

You can learn more about quitting smoking at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (, which has a texting program to help people quit smoking. There are also many online resources to learn more about the harmful effects of smoking and tobacco and e-cigarettes.


7. Alcohol Abuse by Youth | 51%

Researchers at Lurie Children’s have found that emergency room admissions for alcohol use spikes during certain weekends such as Lollapalooza weekend and Halloween weekend. One way to discourage underage drinking is to talk with kids about drinking and communicate clear limits.

Lurie Children’s has convened a multiagency coalition called Preventing Alcohol Abuse in Chicago Teens (PAACT) to help prevent of alcohol abuse among 8th-12th graders in Chicago. For instance, PAACT's I got this! campaign provides tips to parents and guardians about how to talk to teens about alcohol.


8. Parents’ Health Problems Affecting Children’s Health | 49%

One way in which parents’ health problems may affect children’s health is when a parent smokes. Parental smoking increases the likelihood that children will experience symptoms such as wheezing and worse breathing.5,6


9. Suicide among Children and Teens | 49%

Suicide was the third most common cause of death among Illinois youth from 2013-2015. Parents and caregivers can learn more about adolescent suicide prevention and important safety tips such as not letting kids have access to unlocked and loaded firearms.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24-hour support for individuals dealing with suicide or suicidal thoughts (1-800-273-8255) and the Crisis Text Line serves anyone in any type of crisis (text HOME to 741741).



10. Teen Pregnancy | 49%

Rounding out the Top 10 health problems for kids in the city, as perceived by Chicago adults, was teen pregnancy. In 2015, CDPH partnered with Planned Parenthood of Illinois to implement the Chicago Healthy Adolescents and Teens (CHAT) Program. The CHAT Program offers online educational resources, sexual health education in CPS high schools, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

Contact Marie Heffernan at or 312.227.2436.


1Healthy Chicago: Transforming the Health of Our City. City of Chicago Department of Public Health. February 2013.
4National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Public health consequences of e-cigarettes. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi:
5Martinez, F.D., Wright, A.L, Taussig, L.M., Holberg, C.J., Halonen, M., & Morgan, W.J. (1995). Asthma and wheezing in the first six years of life. New England Journal of Medicine, 332(3), 133-138.
6Tager, I.B., Weiss, S.T., Munoz, A., Rosner, B., & Speizer, F.E. (1983). Longitudinal study of the effects of maternal smoking on pulmonary function in children. New England Journal of Medicine, 309(12): 699-703.

About the survey

This report presents findings from the 2017-18 Healthy Chicago Survey, Jr., administered by the Chicago Department of Public Health in collaboration with Lurie Children’s Hospital. The survey was administered via phone interviews from December 2017 through June 2018. The sample consisted of 3,310 adults in Chicago, 1,002 of whom were the parent, step-parent, foster parent, or guardian of at least one child under 18 years old living in the household. Respondents indicated which problems were "big problems" for children and adolescents in the city (not necessarily their own children). The survey cooperation rate was 18%. All analyses were conducted with statistical weighting so that they are representative of the adult population of the City of Chicago during the time period of data collection.

Who we are

Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Marie Heffernan, PhD
Tracie Smith, MPH
Anne Bendelow, MPH
Punreet Bhatti, MD

Contact us

(312) 227-2436

Media Coverage

Press Release

News Articles

Chicago adults consider drug abuse, obesity biggest problems facing city’s children, new survey shows
Chicago Tribune

These are the health concerns facing Chicago youth
Crain’s Chicago Business

Survey: Adults say drug abuse, obesity are top health issues facing Chicago youth

Chicago Adults Identify Top 10 Health Problems for City's Youth
Chicago Medicine Magazine

Audio & Video

Lurie Children’s survey shows drug abuse tops list of kids’ health risks

Interview on WBEZ FM radio

Facebook Live Video
Featuring Dr. Matthew Davis and Dr. John Walkup