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Traditional health concerns for children have dropped to the bottom of the list for parents, with lifestyle factors including poor diet, lack of activity and screen time proving to be the biggest worries in 2021.

The Royal Children’s Hospital National Child Health Poll, released this week, has revealed the top ten child health problems as identified by Australian parents, from a survey conducted in February.

More than 90% of parents reported that excessive screen time was a major problem, with the issue ranking as the number one health concern.

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By the numbers

The poll of 1,980 parents of children aged one month to less than eighteen years also found:

  • Cyberbullying and bullying (53%) was the second biggest health concern parents have for children, followed by internet safety (52%).
  • Lifestyle issues such as unhealthy diets (41%) and lack of physical activity (38%) are listed in the top health problems identified by parents.
  • Mental health was a notable concern, with approximately 38% of parents identifying depression or suicide as big problems for children. Anxiety was also listed as a common problem.
  • One in ten parents report stress and sleep are big problems for their children.

Dr Margie Danchin, Paediatrician and Acting Poll Director, said the latest results are similar to those from a survey conducted five years ago, and show that too much screen time is a persistent problem.

‘Our lives are saturated by digital screens, and it can be difficult to reduce screen time for children when so much of their education and recreation activities are on these devices, particularly in the year 2020 with home learning the norm,’ she said.

‘However, if we continue to encourage physical activity and time outdoors, we can reduce screen time and address some of the other concerns of parents, such as lack of physical activity and obesity.’

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Internet safety a growing concern

While parents’ concern around excessive screen time was at similar levels five years ago, internet safety was raised as a big problem by over 50 per cent of parents in this latest poll.

Along with online behaviour, many of the top ten health problems were related to lifestyle factors, such as sedentary behaviours, which contribute to ill health.

Parents recognised the links between these factors, with parents who reported lack of physical activity as a big problem being six times more likely to also identify unhealthy diets as a major risk.

‘The positive news from this poll is that there is a lot that parents can do to address the issues and to promote positive healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating well and staying active, which can stay with kids throughout their lives,’ said Dr Danchin.

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My kids and your kids

The poll also revealed that parents were less likely to report the top health issues as a problem for their own children compared to children in the community.

Over one in three parents noted lack of physical activity and exercise as a big problem for all children, however, only one in eight noted it as a big problem for their own children.

Similarly, 41 per cent of parents thought unhealthy diets were a big problem for all children, with only nine percent of parents seeing it as a big problem for their own children.

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Parents and kids need support

‘The latest RCH National Child Health Poll serves as a reminder that we need appropriate supports and programs for parents to ensure children are staying safe, both within the community and online, and keeping active and healthy,’ said Dr Margie Danchin.

‘We also need to prioritise mental health, build positive relationships and make sure we are checking in with our kids regularly to see how they’re going,’ she said.

The data for the Royal Children’s Hospital National Child Health Poll was collected from a nationally representative sample of Australian parents.

Visit rchpoll.org.au to read the full report.