Parents ‘Weight Blind,’ Unaware of Children’s Health Problems


A new study has found that many parents suffer from what researchers have dubbed “weight blindness,” or the inability to recognize that their children are obese.

The British Journal of General Practice published the findings which included that 31% of parents underestimated their children’s body mass index (BMI). Brian Wu, writing for The Science Times, reports only 1% of parents included in the study classified their children as obese, and fewer than 1% overestimated their children’s body mass index. For children who were in the 95th percentile, there was an 80% chance that parents recognized that their child was obese.

Researchers suggest that if parents are unable to identify that their child is overweight, perhaps public health campaigns designed to address childhood obesity are not as effective as sponsors would have hoped. Senior author Dr. Sanjay Kinra of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:

“If parents are unable to accurately classify their own child’s weight, they may not be willing or motivated to enact the changes to the child’s environment that promote healthy weight maintenance.”

Co-author Professor Russell Viner of the UCL Institute of Child Health added:

“But we also need to acknowledge that more can, and should, be done to encourage healthy eating and greater physical activity in our society. We need targeted policies that help people lead healthy lives – from clearer nutritional labeling to a focus on health education in schools. By encouraging good habits we can help future generations lead happy, healthy, lives.”

According to the BBC, the study used information gathered from 2,976 families in the UK and found that only four parents thought their child was overweight, while medical assessments found 369 of the children to be overweight. This study, say experts, shows the enormity of misunderstanding surrounding weight issues. If childhood obesity is not recognized, they say it will become a ticking time bomb health issue.

James Gallagher of BBC News says an explanation for why parents are blind to their children’s weight problems is that society, as a whole, has become so fat that a sense of healthy weight has become difficult to muster. The chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, said in her annual report last year:

“We need to find some tool to educate parents, when their child is born, what they should expect a child’s size to be and not to be afraid of talking to parents over fears they, or the child, will react badly.”

It is not just the role of parents, she added. School education should focus on the importance of an active lifestyle and a healthy diet to illustrate to our society the relationship between a good diet and good health. In fact, she continued, society as a whole needs to help enforce messages about eating well. Two ways to start, in her opinion, are to restrict junk food advertising and provide better calorie labeling on food.

The obesity scale classified a child as overweight, obese (very overweight), a healthy weight, or underweight. Children are tagged as overweight in the 85th percentile and obese at the 95th percentile. Black or south Asian parents, parents from more deprived backgrounds, or those having a male child who is overweight were more likely to underestimate their child’s weight. Researchers have discovered that a third of children in England are overweight or obese, reports Madlen Davies, writing for the UK’s Daily Mail.