NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Parents of overweight and obese kids often don’t realize that their children are carrying excess pounds, new research shows.
A survey of parents of nearly 300 children showed that only one-quarter of parents of overweight children recognized that their children had a weight problem. And even when kids were obese, around one-third of mothers and more than one-half of fathers said they thought their children’s weight was “about right.”
Moreover, only one-quarter of parents said they were at least a “little worried” about their overweight children, according to the report in the British Medical Journal. Not surprisingly, most parents who did not realize their children were overweight were unconcerned about their children’s weight.
Study author Alison N. Jeffrey explained that many parents may fail to spot their children’s obvious weight problem because they are no longer able to recognize what is overweight.
“Nowadays, so many people are overweight or obese that that is what we now see as ‘the norm’,” she told Reuters Health.
In addition, there may be an “element of denial” in the way parents responded to the survey, she said.
“They didn’t want to believe their child was overweight, and I think some think that their child will grow out of his or her ‘puppy fat’,” said the researcher, who is based at the Peninsula Medical School in Plymouth, UK.
Currently, more than one-half of adults living in the UK are overweight. Over the last generation, the rate of obesity among preschool-aged kids has increased by 70 percent.
To investigate how in tune parents are to kids’ weight, Jeffrey and her team asked the parents of 277 kids — average age of 7-1/2 — to rate their children’s weight, and say how concerned they were about how much their children weighed.
Parents were more likely to miss a weight problem in boys than in girls, the researchers report. Only one-quarter of boys who were overweight or obese had parents who said they were at least a “little overweight,” while parents gave the same rating to more than half of overweight girls.
Mothers who were overweight themselves were no better or worse at spotting the same problem in their children than normal-weight mothers.
Jeffery suggested that parents may generally focus more on girls’ figures than on boys’ bodies, and believe it’s okay for boys to be more “stocky.”
In addition, “boys also do more physical activity than girls, so parents may believe the boys will burn up more energy running around, so it’s OK for them to eat more,” Jeffery noted.
She added that parents clearly need more “education about what constitutes a healthy weight,” and health professionals need to routinely weigh children, and tell parents when their children are overweight.