From The New York Times Parenting Blog
By K.J. Dell'Antonia
May 20, 2015
Despite growing awareness about childhood obesity, parents actually seem to be getting less aware of their own child’s weight problem.
New research shows that most parents of overweight toddlers and preschoolers view their child’s weight as “just about right.” Even among parents of clinically obese children, more than 75 percent thought their sons were the right weight, and almost 70 percent of the parents of obese daughters thought the same.
Worse, the same research, published this month in the journal Childhood Obesity, suggests that, overall, parents are getting worse, not better, at identifying a child’s weight problem. In the more recent study, based on data collected from 2007 to 2012, parents were 30 percent less likely to assess a child’s weight accurately than parents in a study based on data collected from 1988 to 1994.
That parental blindness worries Dr. Dustin Duncan, an assistant professor of population health at New York University School of Medicine, and Dr. Jian Zhang, an associate professor of epidemiology at Georgia Southern University Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health, both authors of the study.
“Obese children tend to be obese adolescents and obese adults,” Dr. Duncan said by email. Other research suggests that children who are overweight or obese by age 5 are more likely to stay that way, while with each year that a child maintains a normal weight, his chances of becoming overweight or obese as an adult decline.
“The first step to address a health problem is to know it,” Dr. Zhang said, also by email. “Parental perceptions of their child’s weight may influence family readiness to foster healthy behaviors.”
Researchers speculated that parental perceptions may be influenced by the weight of other children they see on playgrounds and in preschool.
“Instead of using science-backed growth charts as the standard with which to compare their child, parents are possibly looking to peers as the standard,” they wrote.
The researchers also suggested that the prevailing emphasis on growth and weight gain for babies and young children may be inadvertently misleading parents. “Heaviness may be viewed as a reflection of inherited build or even as an indicator of good health.”
Notably, more parents begin to recognize weight issues as a child enters adolescence. A study published in the American Journal of Health and Behavior found that just 31 percent of parents fail to access the weight of their adolescent child accurately.
“Parents of these young children might not understand what obesity means for their young children,” Dr. Duncan said, or they may think that their obese child will “grow out of it” — an illusion that’s much harder to maintain as children enter adolescence.