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Children's Health

Many Obese Kids Think They're Thinner Than They Are

They won't take steps to reach a healthy weight if they don't see the problem, experts note
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"We tread a fine line when we talk to children and adolescents about their weight. Of concern is creating disordered eating patterns among kids who are labeled as misperceiving their weight," Heller said.

On one hand, seeing many overweight and obese children and adults has become the norm, Heller said. So it would seem reasonable that overweight children see themselves as being at a normal weight. On the other hand, the media and social influences create unrealistic ideal body types that both boys and girls strive to achieve, she said.

"We can help bring children and adolescents to appropriate weights by focusing on healthy foods, regular exercise and a positive self-image. Parents, educators and caregivers can make headway by becoming role models themselves and creating opportunities to support and enjoy healthy lifestyle choices and activities with children," Heller said.

Dr. David Katz is director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. He said: "There is well-established variation, over time and across cultures, in perceptions of ideal weight. But that variation is about appearance, not health."

Unfortunately, obesity in children is a major cause of serious health problems, from type 2 diabetes to fatty liver disease, he noted.

"We need to fix this and raise awareness among all ethnic groups about the important health threats posed by childhood obesity. But we have to proceed with caution. We should empower people to take constructive action, not confront them with blame or impose any sense of shame," Katz said.

Data for the report came from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2005-2012.

Meanwhile, a recent report published in the journal Pediatrics found that the waist sizes of America's kids and teens appear to have stopped spreading.

According to the University of Minnesota researchers who conducted that study, the proportion of children and teens aged 2 to 18 who were obese, based on waist size, held steady at nearly 18 percent from 2002 to 2012.

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