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Parents blind to their children’s weight, study finds

Feb. 9, 2007
Courtesy Research Australia
and World Science staff

Many par­ents are blind to their chil­dren’s ex­cess weight, which is bad news amid a wors­en­ing obes­i­ty ep­i­dem­ic, re­search­ers say.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors with Dea­kin Uni­ver­si­ty in Bur­wood, Aus­tral­ia, sur­veyed more than 1,100 fam­i­lies to find out if par­ents had con­cerns about their chil­dren’s weight and took any ac­tion to pre­vent obes­i­ty.


The study found that 89 per­cent of par­ents of over­weight 5-6 year-olds, and 63 per­cent of par­ents of over­weight 10-12 year-olds, didn’t know their child was too heavy. 

Al­so, 71 pe­rcent of par­ents of over­weight 5-6 year-olds and 43 pe­rcent of those with over­weight 10-12 year-olds did­n’t think their child’s weight was a prob­lem, the re­search­ers said.

“These are quite trou­bling re­sults and sug­gest that cur­rent obes­i­ty pre­vention cam­paigns are not hit­ting the mark with par­ents,” said Da­vid Craw­ford, head of the uni­ver­si­ty’s Cen­tre for Phys­i­cal Ac­tiv­i­ty and Nu­tri­tion Re­search, which con­ducted the stu­dy.

Re­search has linked with obes­i­ty in child­hood with obes­i­ty in adult­hood, which in turn is tied to a range of health con­di­tions in­clud­ing heart dis­ease, di­a­be­tes and cer­tain can­cers. “Par­ents are part of the front line in the bat­tle to re­verse the trend of obes­i­ty in chil­dren,” Craw­ford said, so it’s “es­sen­tial that they are armed with in­for­ma­tion and prac­ti­cal strate­gies” to guard their child­rens’ health.

It’s not that sur­pris­ing that many par­ents were un­a­ware their child was over­weight, he added, giv­en that “many adults are not able to rec­og­nise over­weight in them­selves.” A study found that last year.

Crawford sug­gested some rea­sons for the lack of rec­og­ni­tion of child­hood over­weight could be that some par­ents, particularly moth­ers, tend to judge over­weight by wheth­er or not their child is teased about their weight at school or has de­vel­oped lim­i­ta­tions in phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ty; or that, with child­hood obes­i­ty be­com­ing in­creas­ing­ly com­mon, that some ex­cess weight simp­ly goes un­no­ticed.

Craw­ford said many par­ents did re­port tak­ing po­si­tive steps. The most com­mon in­clud­ed pro­mot­ing a bal­anced di­et, pro­mot­ing ex­er­cise, re­duc­ing junk food, lim­it­ing fat and sug­ar in­take and en­cour­ag­ing more fruit.

While that’s en­cour­ag­ing, Craw­ford said less than one in ten par­ents in­creased con­sump­tion of fruit and vegeta­bles as a po­ten­tial weight-control strat­e­gy; and few re­ported try­ing to lim­it their child’s in­take of high-energy drinks and tel­e­vi­sion view­ing—all im­por­tant mea­sures, he not­ed. The study ap­peared in the Oc­to­ber is­sue of the re­search jour­nal Pub­lic Health Nu­tri­tion.


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Many parents are blind to their children’s excessive weight, which is bad news amid a worsening obesity epidemic, researchers say. Invest igators with Deakin University in Burwood, Australia, surveyed more than 1200 families to find out if parents had concerns about their children’s weight and if they took any action to prevent obesity. The study of more than 1,100 families found that 89 per cent of parents of overweight 5-6 year-olds and 63 per cent of parents of overweight 10-12 year-olds were unaware their child was overweight. Also, 71 percent of parents of overweight 5-6 year-olds and 43 percent of parents with overweight 10-12 year-olds didn’t think their child’s weight was a problem, the researchers said. “These are quite troubling results and suggest that current obesity prevention campaigns are not hitting the mark with parents,” said David Crawford, head of the university’s Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, which conducted the study. Research has linked with obesity in childhood with obesity in adulthood, which in turn is tied to a range of health conditions including heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. “Parents are part of the front line in the battle to reverse the trend of obesity in children,” Crawford said, so it’s “essential that they are armed with information and practical strategies that they understand and can easily build into their daily lives.” It’s not altogether surprising that many parents were unaware their child was overweight, he added, given that “many adults are not able to recognise overweight in themselves.” A study found that last year. He suggested that some reasons for the lack of recognition of childhood overweight could be that some parents, particularly mothers, tend to judge overweight by whether or not their child is teased about their weight at school or has developed limitations in physical activity; or that, with childhood obesity becoming increasingly common, that some excess weight simply goes unnoticed. Despite parents’ inability to recognise problem weight in their children, Professor Crawford said many parents did reported taking steps prevent their child from gaining too much weight. The most common included promoting a balanced diet; promoting physical activity; reducing junk food; limiting the amount of fat and sugar; promoting more fruit. While that’s encouraging, Crawford said that less than one in ten parents increased consumption of fruit and vegetables as a potential weight-control strategy; and few reported that they tried to limit their child’s intake of high-energy drinks and television viewing—all important strategies, he noted. The study appeared in the October issue of the research journal Public Health Nutrition.