UK parents are failing to recognise their children are overweight, as screen time, unhealthy snacks and dinner in front of the TV become the order of the day. Less than half of parents (41%) say keeping the family healthy is a priority for them. Aviva’s research shows 9% of children aged 2-15 are considered overweight or obese by their parents, whereas NHS statistics indicate that nearly one third of children within this age range are. This leaves 2.4 million children falling into the child obesity awareness gap, as BMI blindness means parents are seriously underestimating childhood weight issues.
Poor dietary habits are being fuelled by a trend of resorting to screen time, unhealthy snacks or fast food to reward children. More than half of parents (54%) use time in front of a TV, laptop or tablet as a way of motivating and rewarding their children, rising to nearly three fifths (57%) of parents working full-time.
Almost half of parents (49%) give their children sweets, chocolate or other unhealthy snacks to reward them. This is more common among parents having to juggle work and family life (52%). Two in five (40%) parents turn to fast food to influence their children’s behaviour.
Today’s busy society – and a propensity among families to prioritise time spent in front of screens – could also be causing the death of the dinner table. A quarter of families (24%) eat dinner on the sofa in front of the TV while a further 16% eat around the dinner table but with the TV on or while checking phones.
The lure of the television also extends into other areas of family life, as watching TV is the most common way families spend time together (42%), ranking higher than visiting places of interest (36%) or playing together (28%). When taking steps to ensure their children are healthy, only 35% of parents limit their children’s use of TV, computers or mobile devices.
A quarter of parents (26%) say their child is more likely to be looking at a screen than taking part in active games and sports, and an additional one in five (18%) say their child would rather be indoors than playing outside. 15% of parents say their child shows little interest in exercise.
It is recommended that children exercise for at least 60 minutes every day, but parents say only a quarter (26%) of children exercise this much. Meanwhile, only two in five (41%) parents are exercising four times a week or more, and are therefore likely to be meeting the recommended target.
Diet is one of the key contributing factors to obesity. More than a third of children and parents (37%) eat at least one portion of chocolate or crisps every day while 31% of children and 28% of parents snack on at least one portion of biscuits or cake daily. This is in stark contrast to the low proportion – just 18% – of children and parents who eat the recommended five portions of fruit or veg a day.
Although not all fizzy drinks contain sugar, they are widely recognised as having little nutritional value. Aviva’s findings show more than a quarter (27%) of children drink at least one fizzy drink per day, rising to 31% of parents.
Time is considered the biggest barrier to families improving their health: 24% say this is the case, rising to 27% of parents working full-time. Money is the biggest barrier for 21%, with this of most concern for non-working parents (31%).
Despite these pressures on their time and budgets, Aviva’s research indicates that many families have recognised they could do more to improve their health. Almost a third (31%) of parents say they could do more to keep the family healthy.
Families have identified getting more exercise as their number one priority in the year ahead (35%), closely followed by losing weight (32%). Better sleep (29%) and more relaxation or free time (28%) were also popular, while more than a fifth (22%) intend to reduce their sugar consumption.
Dr Doug Wright, Medical Director for Aviva UK Health comments:
“No parent likes to think of their child as being unhealthy, but there is a clear mismatch between the number of children parents estimate are overweight, and how many actually are according to official figures. Delve into the nation’s diet and it’s no surprise the country has a weight issue, with many families regularly reaching for high calorie, sugary food and drinks, and too few meeting diet and exercise guidelines.
“With time and money the biggest barriers to keeping healthy, it’s all too easy to sideline family health, particularly when trying to juggle work or other commitments alongside raising a family. However, failing to recognise and tackle poor health habits can lead to illness or even serious health conditions in the long-term, putting more strain on already stretched healthcare services.
“It’s time for families to remove the blinkers and tackle BMI blindness. Small lifestyle changes – like cutting down on sugary snacks, limiting screen time or walking/cycling to work and school – can add up to a big change and don’t have to be time intensive or expensive to have an effect.”
Full press release on www.aviva.com