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Health & Parenting

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Many Moms Don’t Know Their Babies Are Overweight

Misperceptions May Pave the Way to Obesity

Perceptions Guide Behaviors

"This is the elephant in room," says Sarah E. Messiah, PhD, MPH. She is a perinatal/pediatric epidemiologist at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida. "There is a huge disconnect between a parent's perception of their child's weight and their child's actual weight."

The public health implications are enormous. "If a parent can't even identify that their child is overweight, they won't be able to prevent their child from becoming overweight or obese."

Prevention starts at home, she says: "You can't start young enough anymore with obesity prevention. It is crucial to identify the problem if there is one.

Her advice? Ask your child's pediatrician where your child is on the growth chart for BMI.

"Anything above the 85% is a red flag," Messiah says.

Of course, you shouldn't put a toddler on a diet, but that doesn't mean you are powerless.

"Get them moving and stay away from fruit juice and soda," she says. "If they learn to drink water first, they will like it."

Encourage Physical Activity, Healthy Choices

Sarah Hampl, MD, is the medical director of weight management services at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Mo. "From a very early age, moms don't accurately perceive their toddler's body size or weight status," she says.

This misperception may result in encouraging children to eat more than they need for age.

"Parents have more influence when kids are younger," she says. "This is the prime time to encourage fruits and vegetables. We need to make sure that food offerings are the healthiest they can be and not influenced by an inaccurate perception."

The pediatrician also has a role in helping to shore up any disconnects. "They can bring this up and gauge what parents think of their child's weight status and either validate or gently redirect them."

PSA Campaign Can Help Moms Identify Healthy Weight

Eliana M. Perrin, MD, MPH, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wrote an editorial accompanying the new study. Her solution to the problem is a public health campaign.

"I am imagining posters showing photographs of children of all ages between the 5th and 85th percentiles saying, 'I'm at a healthy weight!' This type of campaign may help reset our nationally normed pictures of health, helping parents appreciate healthy undulations of weight," she writes.

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