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10 biggest worries about children's health


From bullying to drug abuse to teen pregnancy, parents have a lot to worry about when it comes to their children's health and well-being. For the ninth year in a row, the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health asked adults across the U.S. about their major health concerns for kids.

Here's a look at the top 10...

1. Childhood obesity


For the third year in a row, childhood obesity tops the list of the biggest health concerns for kids. Despite recent declines in the prevalence among preschool-aged children, obesity is still a big problem in the United States. In fact, approximately 17 percent of children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years old are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Obesity puts kids at a greater risk of serious illnesses, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, several types of cancer, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea and mental health issues like depression.

2. Bullying

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Bullying was the second biggest concern for the second year in a row. According to the National Education Association, some 160,000 students stay home from school each day because of bullying.

And parents have good reason to be concerned: Research has associated bullying with a greater risk of psychological problems, including depression, anxiety disorders and suicidal thoughts later in life.

3. Drug abuse


For the second year in a row, drug abuse rounded out the top three biggest health worries in the survey.

But the latest figures from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggest a positive trend. From 2013 to 2014, among 8th, 10th and 12th graders in the U.S., there was a decreased use of alcohol, cigarettes, prescription pain relievers, inhalants and synthetic drugs, and no increase in use of marijuana.

4. Internet safety


Internet safety is a growing concern. It rose from eighth place in the 2014 survey to fourth on the list of biggest health concerns. This is a reflection, experts say, of the expanding use of technologies, including smartphones, which can potentially expose children and teens to dangers like predators and cyber-bullying.

"We found that while the public may find benefits to today's shifting media environment, whether through cellphones or other technology, many also recognize risks that may make young people vulnerable," Dr. Matthew M. Davis, director of the National Poll on Children's Health, said in a statement.

5. Child abuse and neglect


Overall, the survey found child abuse and neglect was number five on the list of worries about children's health. But there were some differences across racial groups, with Hispanic participants ranking child abuse and neglect as the third leading health concern.

"Since we began tracking how the public rates child health problems nearly a decade ago, we have found persistent and consistent concern for child abuse and neglect," Davis said. "This is an area we must continue to focus on in medical care, in our public health efforts and also in our health policy making."

6. Sexting


Sexting - the practice of sending or receiving sexually suggestive text messages and photos - climbed the list of top concerns in the past year. In 2014, sexting was ranked as 13th on the list; now it is at number six. As with Internet safety, this jump could be attributed to concerns associated with the increasing use and availability of technologies like smartphones, Davis said.

A 2014 study found that middle schoolers who sext were more likely to engage in risky behaviors, including intercourse, than those who do not. The practice has also been linked to teens around the country suffering from low self-esteem and even suicides after photos were shared with peers.

7. Smoking and tobacco use


A perennial item on the list, smoking and tobacco use dropped this year from the fourth biggest concern to the seventh. This may reflect the declining rates of smoking and tobacco use by youth in recent years.

But the National Institute on Drug Abuse warns that e-cigarettes, which were measured for the first time in 2014, are increasingly popular among teens. Though the nicotine in e-cigarettes is vaporized and inhaled rather than smoked, the health effects of e-cigarettes are not yet fully understood and experts caution against their use in kids and adolescents.

8. School violence


School violence fell this year from the fifth leading concern to number eight on the list. Though many may associate school violence with the worst-case scenario of school shootings, which dominate news headlines, various behaviors fall into this category, including pushing, shoving and assault with or without weapons.

According to the CDC, deaths associated with school violence are rare, but many young people experience injuries, including cuts, bruises, broken bones and head trauma.

9. Teen pregnancy


While teen birth rates have plummeted in recent years, teen pregnancy still remains a major concern among adults in the United States. According to the CDC, there were a total of 273,105 babies born to mothers aged 15 to 19 in 2013, a record low for U.S. teens in this age group and a 10 percent drop from the year before.

But parents still have reason to be concerned, since pregnancy and childbirth are significant contributing factors to high school drop-out rates among girls. The children of teenage mothers are also more likely to perform worse in school, have more health problems, be incarcerated as an adolescent, give birth as a teenager and face unemployment as a young adult, the CDC says.

10. Stress


Stress rounds out the top 10 biggest concerns about children's health. In today's busy and competitive world, stress is becoming an increasing problem for children and adolescents. In fact, a survey released in 2014 suggests U.S. teens are more stressed than adults.

Stress can lead to a number of health problems, including trouble sleeping, a disruption of eating habits and difficulty concentrating at school.

Read more: Back-to-school health tips for parents and kids

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