Most adults blame the parents for America’s child obesity problem, according to a report by market analysts Mintel.

More than 77% of adults surveyed said that the parents, not the children, are to blame in the national crisis.  However, there are other major concerns on the obesity horizon.  Beyond a lack of portion control and exercise, another key factor is figuring into the equation- the absence of regulated family eating schedules.  Of the respondents, 93% felt that junk food plays a strong role in childhood obesity issues.

Children’s obesity has gained significant attention in the health care and child welfare arenas over the past five years. In 2002, the Center for Disease Control said that 16% of children aged 6-11 were overweight, with the same percentage holding true for 12-19 year olds.  Approximately 42% of Mintel’s respondents surveyed identified someone in their households as being overweight.

“Children’s eating habits are suffering due to the lack of structured meal time, and this is as big a challenge as the lack of balanced meals,” said Amanda Archibald, analyst and registered dietician for Mintel.  “Compressed schedules and cramped time availability for both children and parents may play a more important role than previously thought in making healthy food choices.”

Data from the Bureau of Labour shows that both American children and parents are spending increased time commuting from work, school and activities.  Eating takes place en route from one venue or another, making sitting down to a home-cooked, carefully balanced meal even less of a reality for families.

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According to Mintel’s Menu Insights, a menu-tracking system, more than 47% of children’s menu items were fried.  Chicken fingers led the way on the top 5 children’s menu dishes list, followed by grilled cheese sandwiches, burgers, macaroni and cheese, and hot dogs.  Mintel’s report also said that overall restaurant portions have also steadily increased over time.

“There is a great chance for fast food and casual dining restaurants to lead by example when it comes to menus for kids,” said Archibald.  “Healthy offerings in this category pale in comparison to those on the adult menu.  In an era of skyrocketing obesity among children, coupled with an increase in away-from-home dining dollars, the opportunity for restaurant operators to add health appeal for kids is clear.  Operators are stepping up to the plate, but many more should take a closer look at the potential to build in this menu area.”

Of the estimated 40,000 television commercials children view a year, 32% are for candy, 31% for cereal, and 9% for fast food.  Children have strong influence on parent’s purchasing decisions, hence driving hefty advertising budgets for youth marketing efforts.