Recent opinion polls indicate that a large number of adults and parents are very concerned or somewhat concerned about childhood obesity (Field Research Corporation, 2003; Widmeyer Polling & Research, 2003). For example, a recent telephone survey of 1,068 randomly selected California residents suggested that for one out of three respondents, obesity-related behaviors, especially unhealthy eating habits or the lack of physical activity, represent the greatest risk to California children (Field Research Corporation, 2003). Although obesity is considered a health problem comparable to smoking, some research suggests that it remains low on the list of Americans’ perceptions of serious health problems, which remain dominated by cancer, HIV/AIDS, and heart disease (Oliver and Lee, 2002; Lake Snell Perry & Associates, 2003; San Jose Mercury News/Kaiser Family Foundation, 2004). More recent national research shows that Americans are perceiving childhood obesity to be a serious problem, similar to tobacco use, underage drinking, and violence, but not as serious as drug abuse (Evans et al., 2004).
Families may vary in the value they place on different health outcomes related to obesity, and the merits they attribute to certain benefits or drawbacks of changing behaviors to address it (Whitaker, 2004). Research suggests that some parents do not perceive weight, per se, to be a health issue for their children (Baughcum et al., 2000; Jain et al., 2001; Borra et al., 2003), independent of their child’s physical and social functioning. They