Kentucky parents have a skewed view of how healthy their children are and often don't talk to their kids about sensitive health issues — such as sex education — even if they think having the information is important for them.
Those two themes run through the results of the Kentucky Parent Survey, conducted by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.
"The reason we did this survey was kind of try to hold up a mirror," said Susan Zepeda, president of the nonprofit health advocacy group. "We were surprised that they believe their children are healthier than other data sources would suggest."
The disconnect became clear on how parents views their children's weight. The group compared survey results to research by reputable health organizations such as the National Survey of Children's Health and the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.
Zepeda said it's hard to know what is in a parent's head. It's possible that health care providers aren't talking frankly to parents about the health of their children or that parents simply aren't hearing and taking in the message. Either way, she said, the survey can be "a starting point for conversations for parents and policy makers about needed policy change" to improve the health of Kentucky's children.
It's important, she said, because "we don't want to overlook signs of risk that need to be addressed."
The survey was conducted last summer, and results have been released in five batches, the last coming in mid-January. To follow up on the results, Zepeda said, the foundation has earmarked $3 million for a five-year program to provide grants to communities developing strategies to keep children from developing chronic diseases, including diabetes.
From 50 communities that submitted original ideas, the foundation has invited 22 communities to submit full proposals for projects. Eight to 10 will be financed, she said.
Here's a look at some findings from the parents survey.
No worries? Only 5 percent of parents said they'd been told their children suffered from depression or anxiety, but 25 percent of teens have struggled with anxiety and 11 percent have coped with depression.
Smile pretty: About 16 percent of parents surveyed said they'd been told their children had tooth decay or cavities. Other research shows that 36 percent of children have untreated tooth decay.
Eye opening: Vision problems in children were reported by 14 percent of the parents surveyed, but about 25 percent of pre-school children in Kentucky have vision problems.
Ask your teacher: According to the survey, 97 percent of parents supported information about HIV and sexually transmitted infections being part of health classes in middle school and high school. About 84 percent supported sharing information about birth control, and 87 percent thought condom use should be covered in class. At the same time, the survey showed that 24 percent of parents never talk about healthy dating relationships with their children.
Plugged in: While 66 percent of Kentucky parents surveyed said they think their children get enough physical activity, 56 percent report that their children spend more than the recommended two hours a day watching television, playing video games, surfing the Web or otherwise being plugged in to an electronic device.
Thinking thin: Only 4 percent of parents said they'd been told by a health professional that their children were overweight or obese. Other research shows that 37 percent of Kentucky's kids are at an unhealthy weight.
Sugar free: Some studies show that teens drink three times the amount of soda as they did 20 years ago — boys drink 81 gallons of soda, girls drink 61 gallons — but 41 percent of parents surveyed said their children typically drink no sugary drinks.
Walk on: Parents say they think exercise is important, and 24 percent live less than a mile from school, but only about 7 percent of children walk or bike to school.
Eat right: A majority of parents — 88 percent — say it's important for school meals to be nutritious. Only about 23 percent think they really are.
Talk the talk: More than half of parents discussed their views on smoking or tobacco use and bullying with their children. But about one in 10 never discussed those topics with their kids. The survey also shows that about 43 percent had talked to their child about drinking alcohol, while 17 percent remained closed-lipped on the subject.
Financed by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, the 2012 Kentucky Parent Survey was conducted July 19 through Aug. 22, 2012 by the Center for Survey Research at the University of Virginia. A random sample of 1,006 parents and guardians of children younger than 18 were interviewed by telephone. This included 848 land-line interviews and 158 cellphone interviews. The margin of error is plus or minus three percent.
Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms. Blog: BluegrassMoms.com.