If your child were overweight, you’d realize, right? Maybe not. A new study reveals that mothers frequently believe their children are at a healthy weight when they aren’t.
Since moms tend to have a large influence over what her kids eat and how much they exercise, the idea that many of them do not recognize that a child has a weight problem reveals a startling discrepancy between perception and reality.
“It is concerning that many mothers did not perceive their overweight children as being overweight,” says Dr. Elena Fuentes-Afflick, study author and associate professor of pediatrics at University of California, San Francisco.
Fuentes-Afflick and colleagues looked at interviews with 194 Latina mothers and their children who were all enrolled in the Latino Health Project. Almost 44 percent of the children in the study were overweight by the time they were three years old.
However, those moms who claimed that their children were in good to excellent health were more likely to have children who fell into the obese group. “A significant number of women believed that their children were normal weight when they were, in fact, overweight,” says Fuentes-Afflick. Indeed, those mothers who thought they were overweight themselves were more likely to have overweight children but have no concerns about their overall health.
In a time when obesity rates are soaring among American adults and children alike, it seems ever more important that parents recognize their children’s unhealthy habits and do what they can to change them. Even though this study only included Latina women, Fuentes-Afflick sees these results as having implications across the Unites States.
“It’s not just Latina parents,” she says. “I believe this is not an ethnic-specific problem.”
Fuentes-Afflick encourages all parents to explicitly ask about their child’s weight at their next pediatrician’s appointment. And if your doctor asks about your child’s habits, be honest. Ask your doctor what he or she would recommend to help your child grow into a healthy adult.
Shrinking Growing Problems
Picture a chubby baby sitting next to a leaner one. Which do you think is cuter? For many mothers, weight implies that their baby is healthy and doing well. That’s OK to a degree for infants, says Fuentes-Afflick, but parents have to learn how to adjust this view as their children get older.
Overweight children seem more likely to become overweight adults if they don’t learn how to control their weight at a very early age. A recent study showed that British children who are obese at the age of 11 are much more likely to remain obese into adulthood than those who have their weight in control at this age. Because of their chronic obesity, these children are at much higher risk for obesity-related diseases, like heart disease and diabetes, later in life.
However, pediatricians often struggle with how to make parents understand the severity of being overweight as a child.
“We have a lot of stigmas around being heavy, and parents don’t want their child to fall into that category,” says Fuentes-Afflick. “It often takes several visits to the pediatrician, communicating the same message, before parents understand that overweight is an important issue for children.”
Additionally, since pediatricians need to consider a child’s weight in light of the fact that they are growing and developing, the lifestyle changes that they may suggest aren’t always easy for parents to implement.
“For kids to lose weight, we need to promote broad-based healthy living,” says Fuentes-Afflick. That means cutting out the juice, soda and fast food and creating family-wide changes like shutting off the television, limiting video game time and getting everyone outside for a walk.