Blair Murphy, a child health evaluation analyst for the Center for Children’s Health at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, presents the findings of a survey looking into children’s health in North Texas on Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn in Denton.

Most parents living in Denton County may not be talking to their children enough about important health issues. And in the age of the smartphone, with reports of children feeling isolated and having self-esteem issues on the rise, that’s a major concern for health leaders.

Some of Denton County’s health care leaders got together Thursday for the unveiling of a regional survey measuring parents’ perceptions of how healthy their children are — and there is room for improvement on issues like sexual health, obesity and mental health.

According to the survey — conducted by the Wellness Alliance for Total Children’s Health of Denton County every three years since 2007 — only about 9% of the county’s parents with kids between the ages of 5 and 14 are concerned about their children being overweight. About a third of children in Texas between the ages of 10 and 17 are classified as overweight or obese.

What does that say? One audience member, who was listening at the Hilton Garden Inn of Denton to child health evaluation analyst Blair Murphy’s data presentation, underscored the day’s lessons: “I don’t know if enough people are concerned.”

“Until we get the parents to recognize the need, then we can’t move to the next levels of prevention,” said Murphy, who works for the Center for Children’s Health at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth.

The survey seeks to assess what parents and guardians of children from infancy to 14 years old think about the health care situation in Denton County, as well as Hood, Parker, Tarrant, Wise and Johnson counties.

A little more than 2,000 people answered the survey in Denton County. They were asked questions on topics like access to treatment as well questions about their children’s health circumstances. Most agreed their children are healthy and that they have access to treatment here.

Almost 31% of the respondents said they’ve never talked about sex with their kids aged 10 to 14.

“If we miss that opportunity as parents,” Murphy said, “then we are not setting up our children for success.”

And the data show that more children are feeling isolated and struggling with self-esteem issues. About 16% of the parents said their kids have self-esteem issues. About 17% said their kids are bullied or teased at school.

Teresa McKinney, an assistant vice president of student affairs at the University of North Texas, said young kids are growing into college-aged adults and come to college with unresolved issues.

“More and more students are coming to us feeling isolated, lonely, they’re feeling bullied,” McKinney said. “It’s having a tremendous impact on their academic success.”

Parents need to talk more about these things with their kids, McKinney and a panel of other healthcare experts agreed. And health care providers ought to consider doing more to raise awareness to these health issues, they said.

“You get treatment for everything else,” McKinney said. “This, too, requires treatment.”

DALTON LAFERNEY can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @daltonlaferney.

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