Eating junk food and not exercising are the biggest health risks for California children, outpacing concerns about illegal drugs or violence, according to a new poll of state voters released Wednesday.

The Field Poll found that 59 percent of voters surveyed ranked children’s poor food choices and dearth of physical movement as either the first or second greatest health risk to children. That’s followed by 43 percent who ranked illegal drug use as the first or second greatest health risk and 31 percent who ranked the threat of violence to children as the first or second greatest risk.

“Voter concerns about risk factors for obesity and diabetes have eclipsed other health concerns facing California kids over the past 10 years,” the Field Report said in a news release.

Some 38 percent of California’s 5th, 7th and 9th graders are overweight or obese, according to results from the 2010 California Physical Fitness Test administered by schools.

Concern about unhealthy eating and a lack of physical activity were greatest among voters in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County, the poll found.

The poll also found that 75 percent of those surveyed felt it was “very important” or “somewhat important” for food and beverage companies to stop advertising and marketing unhealthy products, like high-calorie, fatty or salty foods, soda and other sugary drinks to kids and teens. Some 67 percent felt it was “very important” or “somewhat important” for food and beverage companies to stop advertising unhealthy products on billboards in low-income neighborhoods.

In addition, 66 percent said it is “highly important” for Medi-Cal to cover exercise and other organized physical activity programs.

Jane Meredith Adams covers student health. Contact her or follow her @JaneAdams. Sign up here for EdHealth, EdSource Today’s free newsletter on student health. 

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