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Only one-third of parents follow doctors' orders for kids all of the time

ANN ARBOR, Mich. Pediatricians regularly dispense advice to parents of young children during well-child visits, but a new University of Michigan poll shows that many aren't following doctors' orders.

Only one-third of parents (31 percent) said they follow advice from their child's health care provider all of the time, according to the most recent University of Michigan Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. Thirteen percent said they follow the provider's advice only occasionally.

Parents from lower-income households (<$60,000 annually) were more than twice as likely to say they follow provider advice occasionally (17 percent), compared to parents from higher-income households (8 percent). Black and Hispanic parents are twice as likely to follow provider advice only occasionally (22 percent and 18 percent, respectively) compared to white parents (9 percent).

Most parents (56 percent) said they follow provider's advice "most of the time."

Parents were asked to choose the areas where they are most and least likely to follow the provider advice. Among parents who follow provider advice only occasionally, the topics on which they are most likely to follow advice are nutrition, going to the dentist, and using car seats/booster seats.

In contrast, these parents are least likely to follow advice on discipline (40 percent), putting the child to sleep (18 percent) and watching TV (13 percent).

"During well-child visits, health care providers give parents and guardians advice about how to keep their kids healthy and safe. This poll suggests that many parents aren't heeding that advice consistently, putting kids at risk for long-lasting health concerns," says Sarah J. Clark, M.P.H., Associate Director of the Child Health Evaluation and Research (CHEAR) Unit at the University of Michigan and Associate Director of the National Poll on Children's Health.

Clark says that many major health risks for children are closely tied to parenting behaviors. For example, childhood obesity has been linked to parents allowing the over-consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and excessive TV watching. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is associated with putting infants to sleep in the prone position.

"Even more concerning is that certain populations (poorer families, non-white families) were more likely to report following advice only occasionally. The children in these populations are known to have higher rates of health problems such as obesity, SIDS, and tooth decay," Clark says.

The poll also showed that parents' ratings of the quality of care offered by their children's healthcare providers are closely linked to whether they follow provider advice, says Matthew M. Davis, M.D., M.A.P.P., director of the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.

Among parents who rated their child's provider as "good/fair/poor," 46 percent of those parents said they follow provider advice only occasionally, says Davis, who is a pediatrician.

"This poll suggests that parents need to ask for clarification if they are unsure about what the provider is saying, or why it's important. Providers should work on using clear language, asking parents about their concerns, and giving practical examples of what works with children of different ages,' says Davis.


Contact: Mary F. Masson
University of Michigan Health System

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