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Overweight or Obese Children Likely to be Perceived as “Healthy” by Parents

​Parents' inability to recognize the overweight or obese status of their child may be one explanation for the poor results of pediatric obesity prevention and control efforts, which have yielded only modest results in the past few years.

In a study in the September 2014 Pediatrics (published online Aug. 25), "Generational Shift in Parental Perceptions of Overweight Among School-Aged Children," parents were asked whether they considered their child (6 to 11 years of age) to be underweight, overweight or at just the right weight.

Data were collected in two standard nationalized surveys done in 1988-1994 and 2005-2010 to compare over time how parents view the weight of their already overweight or obese child. Parents (mostly mothers), interviewed between 2005 and 2010 were almost 30 percent more likely than mothers interviewed earlier to believe that their obese child is at just the right weight (83 percent for boys, 78 percent for girls). The largest increase between surveys came from low-income families, followed by African Americans.

Study authors conclude that there can be multiple explanations for parents to perceive an overweight child appropriately. Parents themselves may not understand what constitutes being overweight, since the definition of "overweight" can be confusing. Mothers are more likely to compare their children to peers or friends, and less likely to use growth charts or other biological tools to measure their child's weight. Helping parents recognize and accept the overweight status of their children and the associated health risks is often a crucial step in motivating them to make positive weight-related behavioral and nutritional changes.

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Published
8/25/2014 12:00 AM