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Parents, Kids, Doctors Balk at Talk About Weight

WebMD/Sanford Survey: Sex, Drugs Easier to Discuss Than Weight Control
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Sept. 14, 2011 -- Doctors say it's the most important thing parents can discuss with their kids. Yet both parents and kids would rather talk about anything else -- including drugs and teen sex -- than weight.

Nearly a quarter (22%) of parents are uncomfortable discussing the risks of being overweight with their kids. For parents of kids ages 8 to 12, only sex is a more uncomfortable topic.

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And for the parents of teens, no other topic makes them squirm more: not sex (12% uncomfortable), smoking (6% uncomfortable), drugs (6% uncomfortable), or alcohol (5% uncomfortable). The findings come from Kelton Research surveys of 1,299 parents of kids ages 8 to 17 and of 1,078 kids ages 8 to 17, sponsored by WebMD and Sanford Health.

With a third of U.S. kids already overweight -- and 17% already obese -- weight control is one of the nation's most pressing issues, says WebMD pediatrician Hansa Bhargava, MD, medical director of the Sanford/WebMD Fit program.

"If you want to prevent obesity, you have to be talking to the kids who are normal weight, not just those who are overweight," Bhargava says. "There seems to be an all-around misunderstanding of this. Parents should be talking about healthy weight from the get-go, and the conversation should be going on everywhere -- at home, in school, and with health care providers."

Parents know overweight is a problem: 37% think it's a risk to at least one of their children. They see it as a bigger threat to their kids than drugs (34%) or cigarettes (33%), and nearly as big a threat as alcohol (42%) and premature sexual activity (42%).

But who's supposed to talk to their kids? It's their doctors' job, 19% of parents say. Yet only 1% of parents think it's primarily a doctor's job to talk to their kids about sex, drugs, or alcohol. Only 2% say it's a doctor's job to talk about the risks of smoking.

In a Medscape poll of 624 pediatricians and pediatric nurse practitioners and physician assistants, 90% named weight as one of the most important topics parents should discuss with their children. That's more than named safe sex (73%), smoking (73%), drug use (72%), and excessive drinking (68%).

What makes parents so reluctant to talk to children about the risks of being overweight? Many don't think it's a problem until their children are obviously overweight, says family psychologist Susan Bartell, PsyD, a consultant to WebMD on the surveys.

"But the next issue I see often is parents are really afraid they will trigger an eating disorder," Bartell tells WebMD. "And then the other thing is they don't know how to talk to kids about weight. They think they will hurt their kids' feelings or damage their self-esteem."

And kids aren't making this talk any easier. Nearly three-fourths of them (72%) say the discussion would be more embarrassing to them than to their parents.

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