LINCOLN, Neb.Though childhood obesity rates in the United States have tripled in the last 30 years, more than half of parents do not recognize that their child is overweight, according to a new study conducted by University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers.
Seeking a clear answer on whether parents realize their children are overweight, UNL graduate student Alyssa Lundahl, along with Timothy Nelson, assistant professor of psychology, combined and analyzed data from 69 studies conducted worldwide between 1990 and 2012 that involved children ages two to 18 years. The study's results, published in the journal Pediatrics, indicate more than 50% of parents underestimate the weight of their overweight or obese child.
This is a topic that has a lot of implications for children and their weight," Lundahl said. Parents who underestimate their childrens weight may not encourage healthy eating and physical activities that can optimize their childrens health and reduce their risk of obesity."
Surprisingly, parents perceptions about whether their children are overweight have not changed as childhood obesity rates increased, Lundahl found, and they are not influenced by obesity rates in the place where they live.
No matter where you are and no matter what the rate of obesity is in that area, parents are still underestimating the weight of their overweight children," she said.
Parents of younger children, ages two to five years, are less likely to perceive their children as overweight or obese, the study found.
Perceptions grow more accurate with age," Lundahl said. Parents realize its not just baby fat any more and theyre not going to grow out of it."
Parents also are less accurate in judging the size of their sons, believing that normal weight sons are actually underweight, the study found. In addition, parents who are overweight also are less likely to accurately assess their childrens weight.
The study has important implications for pediatricians, Nelson said. Overweight children between two and five years old are five times more likely than their non-overweight counterparts to be overweight at age 12. Obesity in adolescence is highly predictive of adult weight problems.
If pediatricians recognize that many parents dont accurately judge whether their child has a weight problem, they can help parents improve their childrens health by encouraging healthy eating and physical activity, Lundahl said.