Most U.S. adults and parents with children under the age of 12 worry about childhood obesity, with more than eight in ten (84 percent) U.S. adults believing it is “a major problem” and 78 percent of parents saying the same. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, sixteen percent of children and adolescents in the United States were overweight as of 2002, and the prevalence of childhood obesity has been rising steadily over the past two decades.

A large majority of both groups generally believes that parents, above a wide variety of other groups, can have the greatest impact in reducing childhood obesity. Majorities of U.S. adults (83 percent) and parents (85 percent) both say that parents have the greatest impact. However, many adults also feel that schools, government and the food industry have a role to play.

Compared to one year ago, adults are more likely to consider advertising directed to children as a major contributor to the rising rate of childhood obesity (78 percent versus 65 percent). They are also increasingly likely to believe that government should play a more active role in regulating the types of marketing and advertising that the food industry directs toward children (60 percent versus 53 percent) and that public schools should do more to limit children’s access to unhealthy foods (88 percent versus 83 percent). A large majority (94 percent) also believes that public schools should do more to promote regular exercise.

Some of the nation’s largest food and drinks companies recently announced that they will make a number of changes in their marketing practices to children and these initiatives are favored by most adults and parents with children under the age of twelve. Most adults and parents favor implementing the use of child-friendly characters to promote healthier foods (91 percent of adults, 92 percent of parents), limiting advertising to healthier foods (73 percent, 75 percent), and restricting the use of popular characters from television shows and movies (64 percent, 63 percent). Far fewer (43 percent, 45 percent), by comparison, favor prohibiting advertising to children under the age of twelve.

Katherine Binns, division president for healthcare research at Harris Interactive, comments, “The public believes that many players can make a difference in battling the growing epidemic of childhood obesity. In the end, these findings suggest that by taking steps to address the public’s rising concerns, the food industry will be able to dampen public demand for increased regulation and oversight of its marketing practices.”