Caregivers Don't See Their Children As Overweight
Another study from the University of Maryland that looked at an African-American population of children found the same skewed perception, and that it crossed socioeconomic barriers.
Deborah Young-Hyman, PhD, CDE, primary researcher for the study, tells WebMD that parents can not connect their children's obesity and its relationship to health problems like type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes is a very silent disease, says Young-Hyman, whose study appears in the May issue of Obesity Research. Often, people have it long before any real symptoms occur. These parents see diabetes as an adult problem, and since their children are healthy, they cannot relate to it, she says.
She also says there is a sort of "love is blind" phenomenon called optimistic bias, in which the parent just cannot perceive the child as being either overweight or at risk for health problems. Young-Hyman is an associate professor of pediatric medicine and an endocrine psychologist at the University of Maryland in Baltimore.
So what's a parent to do?
Young-Hyman says parents need to be role models for their children, bring their concerns about weight to their pediatrician or primary care doctor, encourage exercise, particularly in the form of play, and be their child's advocate to help change things such as the foods served in school cafeterias.
Casey, who is one of the investigators of the Delta Project, a huge study looking at the health risk factors in the delta regions of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, among which obesity is a focus, says that children and parents need to be educated about proper nutrition and lifestyle changes such as exercise. He adds that obesity in children is becoming a public health epidemic.
Young-Hyman agrees, and says that public awareness campaigns using TV and the news media are needed to hammer home the fact that obesity is not a harmless childhood condition, and that it can carry long-term health consequences.