Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise? Exploring Parent Comparative Optimism About Future Child Outcomes

MDM Policy Pract. 2018 May 23;3(1):2381468318774776. doi: 10.1177/2381468318774776. eCollection Jan-Jun 2018.


Objectives. Comparative optimism is present in parental predictions of their child's long-term, obesity-related health outcomes and some of this optimism is unrealistic. An understanding of how comparative optimism relates to parents' predictions of health versus other child outcomes could contribute to the development of interventions and strategies pediatricians can use to improve risk assessment. Methods. In a nationally representative survey, we asked American parents of 6- to 17-year-old children (n = 410) to estimate the chances that their child and "a typical child in their community" would be affected by overweight, get married, and complete a 4-year college degree by age 30, and the child's future salary at age 30. We collected data on family demographic and health characteristics. We modeled the difference in parent predictions for their child versus the typical child using multivariate linear regressions. Results. Compared to the typical child, parents were less likely to predict that their child would be affected by overweight (-26.6 percentage points, 95% confidence interval [CI]: -35.6, -17.7) and more likely to predict that their child would complete a 4-year degree (16.7 percentage points, 95% CI: 2.5, 31.0). Parents predicted their child would have a higher income than the typical child at age 30 ($15,266, 95% CI: $7,487, $23,046). Parents did not predict that their child would be more likely than the typical child to be married by age 30 (-2.2 percentage points, 95% CI: -8.1, 3.7). Conclusions. Some parents appear to exhibit comparative optimism around their child's future weight status, education, and economic outcomes, but not marriage. Future experimental work should assess whether risk communication approaches that consider optimism bias influence parent risk perception and parenting behaviors.

Keywords: child development; marriage; optimism; parents; pediatric obesity.