Parents rank their obese children as ‘very healthy’

Parents rank their obese children as ‘very healthy’

Do parents really see their children for who they are? A University of California, San Diego School of Medicine-led study suggests that parents of obese children often do not recognize the potentially serious health consequences of childhood weight gain or the importance of daily physical activity in helping their child reach a healthy weight.

The study is based on a survey of 202 parents whose children were enrolled in an obesity clinic at the Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island in 2008 and 2009. The survey probed parents’ readiness to take actionable steps to improve their child’s eating habits and physical activity levels. The children ranged in age from 5 to 20 years old, with an average age of 13.8 years. More than two-thirds were female, and almost all (94 percent) were clinically classified as obese.

Although most of the children had been referred to the obesity clinic by a primary care provider and had metabolic markers of obesity, 31.4 percent of parents perceived their child’s health as excellent or very good and 28 percent did not perceive their child’s weight as a health concern.

“This is a major issue for health care providers,” says Dr. Aaron Traeger, pediatrician with Advocate Medical Group in Bloomington, Ill. “Many parents are completely blindsided when we show them the facts that their child’s BMI puts them in the “obese” category.”

It is also interesting to note that parents indicated a greater interest in helping their child eat a healthy diet than encouraging the pediatrician-recommended hour of daily physical activity.

Specifically, 61.4 percent of parents reported that they were improving their child’s eating habits (less junk food, more fruits and vegetables) while only 41.1 percent said they were increasing their child’s involvement in active play, sports, dancing or even walking. Both diet and exercise are considered keys to good health, and a growing body of evidence suggests that these health habits are formed early in life.

In terms of physical activity, researchers do not know why parents appear to underemphasize its role in good health, but the finding is consistent with other recent studies that suggest America’s youth are largely out-of-shape and sedentary, replacing playtime with “screen time.”

Give your child a gentle nudge off the couch with some tips from The American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Lead by example: Your activity level sets a powerful example in the home. Parents who make exercise a priority in their own lives will significantly increase the chance that family members will do the same.
  • Get involved: Participating in family games and activities makes for solid bonding time — and the stuff of good memories. Sharing enthusiasm and a light-hearted challenge will get them moving; having fun will keep them moving.
  • Limit screen time: Restrict to two hours a day the number of hours your child is allowed to watch TV, play video games, and use the computer. Interactive video games that require the player to perform dance or sports moves can ease the blow of stricter guidelines
  • Hang loose: Keep the emphasis on fun and enjoyment. The more flexible you can be, the more your child will feel a sense of choice and control.
  • Eat well: Make the most of the benefits of physical activity by providing good nutrition and well-balanced meals at home.
  • Spread the word: Share your expectations with grandparents, teachers, and other caretakers to help reinforce healthy activities when your child is away from home.

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  1. Interesting study…I can see why parents would have a hard time seeing this in their own kids.

  2. Ernst Lamothe Jr July 23, 2014 at 10:28 am · Reply

    I think the lead by example tip is very important.

  3. Interesting study, I think that all families should practice a healthier style of living! It could be easier for children to become more active if it’s a family thing.

  4. I am a big proponent of limiting screen time and getting kids outside to play!

  5. You know, I really hate to be a stickler and cynic when it comes to these articles; but Advocate needs to do a little better job on writing. First, it would be very help to add a sentence or two on what the definition of clinically obese. Second, the researchers should have asked additonal questions to parents found to underemphasize physical activity. My guess is that parents who are not active tend to have children who are not active. Yet, perhaps there are other factors like accesibility to recreation facilities or safety of one’s neighborhood?

  6. This is really interesting. I read another article today saying kids who are obese call themselves healthy. I wonder how the two are connected.

  7. Less TV , Games and sitting. Fewer treats / less processed food. Play outside, walk, play ball, run, Parents do not see what they refuse to see. Likely many parents are fat as well. Its an epidemic . Denial is very strong.

  8. One wonders how many of the participating parents were themselves overweight, and by how much. I’d expect a bias against seeing their kids as overweight if one or both parents had a weight issue or an eating disorder, just as I’d expect an anorexic or bulimiv parent to have a bias toward seeing his or her child as overweight when the kid was only normal weight. thaat would be an important factor to note in such a study.

    My own mother discouraged soda pop and chips, etc., saying they were for special occasions when we had guests in the house, and didn’t buy them regularly. Instead, we had milk, buttermilk, tea, fruit juices and V8 juice in the house, lots of fresh fruit, and a green salad and soup at every dinner meal. Dessert was for special occasions, too, not an everyday thing. Still, it’s the getting your kids up and moving that makes a big difference. My mama figured that as long as I was sitting reading a book that I was safe and staying out of trouble. I also rode my bike a lot until college, but nobody in our house got much other exercise, except for my dad who played golf once a week … and now I prefer reading a book to any form of exercise! Not a good habit and one I’m trying to break with long walks. Still, I need to get a bike again, though …

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.