To effectively deal with a problem, one must recognize it and deal with it. Sadly, a review of a number of childhood obesity studies found that 50% of parents underestimate their children’s weight status; thus, they are not effectively dealing with it. This is a huge problem. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the ongoing epidemic of childhood obesity is both a national and local crisis. Nationally, obesity rates among children have tripled since the 1970s; in Los Angeles County more than one in five students in the fifth, seventh, and ninth grades are now obese. The study was published online on February 3 in the journal Pediatrics by researchers Department of Psychology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The study authors note that parental awareness of their children’s weight is a significant factor for obesity prevention and treatment. Therefore, the goal of their study was to determine the proportion of parents worldwide who underestimate their children’s weight. In addition, they evaluated factors that could and modify those misperceptions. The investigators conducted a meta-analysis of relevant studies published up to January 2013. (A meta-analysis is a compilation of data from a number of studies to clarify the results.)
The researchers reviewed medical literature published in PUBMED, PSYCHINFO, and CINAHL databases. They also reviewed references cited in those articles to search for additional relevant studies. The studies evaluated parental perceptions of children’s weight and then compared those perceptions to recognized standards for defining overweight. They separated the data into two meta-analyses: overweight/obese and normal-weight. A total of 69 articles (15,791 children) were included in the overweight/obese meta-analysis. The researchers found that 50.7% of parents underestimate the weight of their overweight or obese children. Significant moderating factors of this effect included child’s age and body mass index (BMI). A total of 52 articles (64,895) were included in the normal-weight meta-analysis. In this group, the researchers found that 14.3% of parents underestimated their children’s normal-weight status. Significant moderating factors of this effect included child gender, parent weight, and the method (visual versus nonvisual) in which perception was rated.
The researchers concluded that half of parents underestimated their children’s overweight/obese status and a significant minority underestimated their children’s normal weight. They noted that pediatricians should make a concerted effort to apprise the parents of their patients of weight issues and stress the importance of healthy lifestyle choices (i.e., healthy diet and exercise).
Take home message:
This study notes that many parents have a distorted perception of their children’s appearance and health status. Many of these parents may be overweight or obese themselves. Any outside observer could generally recognize weight status; thus, these parents are turning a blind eye to their children’s weight status and probably other issues as well. Good parenting involves being tuned-in to your children.