May 8, 2012 -- Many moms of chubby toddlers don't realize their babies are large for their age, and this misperception may be setting the stage for their tots to grow up to be overweight or obese, a new study shows.
Nearly 70% of moms inaccurately assessed their toddler's body size when selecting an image they thought reflected their child's body size. Moms of overweight toddlers were more than 88% less likely to accurately perceive their child's body size when compared to moms of toddlers with a healthy weight, the study shows.
Overall, more than two-thirds of moms were satisfied with their toddler's body size. More mothers of healthy-weight or overweight toddlers were likely to be satisfied than mothers of underweight toddlers.
Erin R. Hager, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, looked at how 281 moms viewed their child's body size. Participants were recruited from a suburban Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children clinic and an urban pediatric clinic serving predominantly low-income families. Babies were close to 2 years old, on average. Moms ranged in age from 18 to 46 and most were overweight or obese.
The new findings appear in the May issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
"Most of the moms were inaccurate in knowing their child's true body size, but were highly satisfied with their child's size," Hager says. Those who were not satisfied with their child's size typically wanted their kids to be bigger.
"This is not good if the child is already at a healthy weight or overweight."
Perceptions guide behavior, she says. "If you desire your child to be bigger, you may encourage them to gain weight."
Not really, Hager says. "Many people believe that a chubby baby is a sign of good parenting, but this is not accurate anymore."
Parents may think their kids will grow out of it, but that is not always the case. Chubby tots are more likely to become overweight or obese adults -- especially if their parents mistakenly see them as underweight and try to have them gain weight.
As it stands, about 1 in 3 kids in the U.S. is overweight or obese before age 5. The rate of childhood obesity in the U.S. has tripled since the 1970s.