Teens, Parents Underestimate Weight Problems
> 2/22/2008 12:08:03 PM

More schools and communities are fighting against childhoodobesity, but recent research illustrates one factor that may undercutefforts to help children who are obese or overweight live healthierlives. Parents of overweight children often do not see their child as overly heavy,and a study published in this month's Diabetes Care found that whenparents underestimate the seriousness of a child's weight problem, thechild tends to do the same.

A team of researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill interviewed over 100 teenagers and their parentsabout the teens' weight, diet, and activity levels. The participantswere asked to describe their child or themselves as very overweight,slightly overweight, about right, slightly thin, or very thin. All ofthe teenagers in this study had type 2 diabetes, a condition associatedwith excess weight, but parents and teens both generally perceived theteen's weight as less problematic that it actually was, and if theparent underestimated the weight problem, the teen was likely to followsuit. While 87% of the teens in the study were overweight, only 41% ofparents described their child as very overweight, while only 35% of theteens saw themselves as very overweight. Many parents thought theirchild's weight was �about right,� and among these parents, 40% hadchildren with a body mass index (BMI) that was at or above the 95thpercentile. 55% of the teens who said their weight was �about right�had BMIs at or above the 95th percentile. Not surprisingly, parents andteens who did not recognize the severity of the teen's weight problemalso tended to have poor diet and exercise habits.

In December, researchers from the University of Michigan provided other evidence that parents often fail to see their children's weight as problematic.They surveyed over 2,000 children and parents as part of the NationalPoll on Children�s Health conducted by C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.The poll's results showed that a quarter of children aged 6 through 11were overweight or obese, but among the parents of these children, over40% felt their child's weight was "about right." Only 13% of theseparents felt that their child was overweight, and less than 10% feltconcerned about their child's weight, which raises a central issue. Ifparents don't recognize the problem and don't feel concerned about it,they may not understand the necessity of helping their child modifytheir diet and other behaviors that may have contributed to theirweight.

Overweight children and teens are likely to carry theirexcess weight into adulthood, and ensuring that these children andtheir parents recognize the severity of a weight problem may be acrucial step in helping them make healthy changes in their lives.Parents have a large influence over the behavior of their children andcan provide support as their children move toward a healthier weight.And if the entire family commits to eating healthier food and engagingin more exercise, they will all feel the benefits of a healthylifestyle.

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