Atlanta, Ga. (CBS ATLANTA) — More than three-quarters of parents perceived their overweight children as “about the right weight,” according to a new study that reveals parents today are far less capable of realizing when their children are overweight or obese.
A study published Aug. 25 in the journal Pediatrics finds that parents are less able to realize when their children are overweight or obese than parents just two decades before – even as obesity has more than doubled among children 6-11 years old between 1980 and 2012.
Parents interviewed between 2005 and 2010 were nearly one-quarter (24 percent) less likely to identify a weight problem in their kids than parents who were interviewed between 1988 and 1994, according to the survey data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. This comes as obese rose from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 18 percent in 2012, according to the researchers.
By contrast, parents interviewed between 1988 and 1994 accurately perceived whether their child was overweight or obese more than half (51 percent) of the time. That number decreased to 44 percent for parents surveyed between 2005 and 2010.
“The society as a whole is stuck with a vicious cycle,” senior study author Dr. Jian Zhang, an associate professor of epidemiology at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, told HealthDay. “Parents incorrectly believe their kids are healthy, they are less likely to take action, and so it increases the likelihood that their kids will become even less healthy.”
The researchers note that more than three-quarters of the parents interviewed in the 2005-2010 survey perceived their children as “about the right weight,” with 83 percent being boys and 78 percent of the children being girls.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined a child’s weight status by calculating their height and weight to show their body-mass index (BMI).
Amanda Staiano, director of the Pediatric Obesity and Health Behavior Laboratory in Baton Rouge, tells HealthDay that pediatricians are essential to breaking the vicious cycle of inaccurate perceptions of weight and parenting.
“Parents see doctors as an authority figure, and we see success with weight loss interventions and treatments when a pediatrician is involved,” said Staiano, who also serves as co-chair of The Obesity Society’s Public Affairs Committee. “It’s paramount that every time a child comes in for a visit, the pediatrician reviews the child’s height and weight, and discusses how they are doing with their parents.”
Staiano also said that childhood obesity has become more difficult for some parents to detect simply because of its increasing prevalence in schools and elsewhere.
“We compare ourselves to the people we see around us,” she told HealthDay. “If a child is in a class where most of the kids are overweight or obese, that becomes the new normal.” She added that medical definition for obesity and being overweight have become too complicated – to the point that parents are unsure whether to apply the condition to their own children.
“Nowadays, parents may be concerned there is a stigma if they admit their child is obese,” Staiano said. “They also may not know what to do about it, so there may be a little bit of denial there as well.”