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Parents Often Don't See Problem

In a related study also published in the journal, researchers reported that parents frequently don't recognize that their child is overweight, or say they feel powerless to do anything about it.

The researchers surveyed 151 parents of children; 62% of the kids were overweight or obese. The researchers found almost half of the parents (44%) did not see their child's weight as a problem and were classified as having no interest in changing behaviors in the next six months. Another 17% of parents did recognize that their child had a problem, and were thinking about making a change, but not soon.

Pediatrician and study co-author Cynthia DeLago, MD, MPH, tells WebMD that parents who were overweight themselves often recognized the problem in their children, but had taken no action.

"We don't know exactly, but it is likely that many of these parents just felt defeated by their own struggles with weight," she says. "You might hear, 'Everybody in our family is big. It's genetics, and there isn't anything we can do about it.'"

The researchers found that parents of children who were 8 years old or older were more likely to be ready to address their child's weight issues than parents of younger children.

DeLago says the realization that parents' attitudes about their children's weight vary widely has changed the way she practices medicine.

"It is important to understand where a parent is coming by asking if their child's weight is a concern," she says. "The discussion that you have with a parent who says 'yes' is very different from the one you have with one who says 'no.'"

She adds that parents are often reluctant to take action until the child sees his or her weight as an issue, usually around the time they hit middle school.

"The problem is that by then you have established certain eating patterns that are really hard to break," she says.

So What Can a Parent Do?

While she agrees that studies addressing childhood obesity are badly needed, pediatric weight loss specialist Melinda Sothern, PhD, says there are effective intervention programs for overweight kids.

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