Many Parents Don't See Child Obesity

Childhood Obesity Poll: Parents Often Don’t Recognize Their Own Child's Obesity

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on December 11, 2007

Dec. 11, 2007 -- Most parents recognize childhood obesity as a problem, but many fail to see it in their own kids, a new childhood obesity poll shows.

The poll included 2,060 U.S. adults. Parents made up about two-thirds of the group.

The poll notes a "stark mismatch" between children's obesity and their parents' recognition of their child's obesity.

That concerns Matthew Davis, MD, MAAP, who directs the National Poll on Children's Health for the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

"It is critical to address obesity in the childhood years -- at home, and in schools and other community settings," Davis says in a news release.

"But in order to address childhood obesity at home, parents must first recognize that a child is not at a healthy weight for their height. Parents also must be concerned enough to want to do something about their children's obesity," Davis says.

Childhood Obesity Poll

The poll was conducted online last summer. The parents who were polled reported their oldest child's height and weight. Using those figures, the researchers calculated the kids' BMI (body mass index), which relates height to weight.

The researchers defined childhood obesity as BMI in the 95th percentile or higher for the children's age and sex. Overweight BMI started in the 85th percentile for the children's age and sex.

A quarter of children ages 6-17 were overweight or obese. That's lower than other national estimates, which put the figure at 35%, note Davis and colleagues.

Parents of teens were more likely than parents of younger kids to recognize that their obese child was at least "slightly" overweight.

But overall, many parents didn't recognize extra weight in their own children and teens. Those findings are in line with another poll released earlier this year.

Almost all of the parents -- 84% -- indicated that they think it is "very important" for doctors to address obesity with adolescents during regular checkups.

That finding suggests that many parents are willing to discuss the issue with doctors and would welcome doctors' guidance on kids' weight, note Davis and colleagues.

Extra Weight, Health Risks

Extra weight raises health risks for children, and overweight children often grow up to become overweight adults, notes the CDC.

Last week, a Danish study linked extra weight in children to adult risk of heart disease.

The CDC and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provide these tips for parents:

  • Encourage healthy eating habits for the whole family. Include fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain products as part of a healthy diet.
  • Watch portion size. For instance, a cup of cereal should be the size of a tennis ball, 3 ounces of cooked meat is the size of a deck of cards, and a pancake is the size of a compact disc.
  • Limit sugary drinks, sugary foods, and saturated fat.
  • Emphasize activity. Kids and teens should get at least a daily hour of moderate intensity physical activity such as playing tag, jumping rope, playing soccer, swimming, or dancing.
  • Curb sedentary time. Reading and doing homework is fine, but limit kids' time watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the web to no more than 2 hours per day. The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn't recommend any TV time for kids age 2 or younger.

Show Sources

SOURCES: C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, National Poll on Children's Health, Dec. 5, 2007; vol 2: pp 1-2. News release, University of Michigan. WebMD Medical News: "Childhood Obesity: Not My Child." WebMD Medical News: "Forecast: Tsunami of Heart Disease." CDC: "Childhood Overweight." U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Portion-Size and School-Aged Children: What's a Serving Size?"

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