Parents Who See Kids as Overweight May Prompt Weight Gain

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

Currently, most health programs help parents become aware that their child has a weight problem and assist them in taking steps to feed their child healthier foods and exercise more often.

A new study, however, reports that young kids are more likely to gain weight if their parents think their youngsters are overweight.

CNN's Carina Storrs writes that researchers found kids were more prone to gaining weight if their parents thought they were overweight.

The scientists studied over 3,500 children in Australia and discovered that those who were carrying extra weight when they were aged 4 or 5 and had mothers and fathers who saw them as overweight, gained more weight by the time they were 13.

The additional weight gain was in comparison to young people who were overweight, but whose parents saw their kids as normal or underweight.

Assistant Professor Angelina Sutin with the department of behavioral sciences and social medicine at Florida State University College of Medicine, who led the research that was published in the journal Pediatrics, said:

"In this case, misperception may be protective."

The process included determining the body mass index, or BMI, of the 4- or 5-year-olds and asking one of the parents, usually the mother, if they thought their young ones were underweight, average weight, or overweight. The team then measured the children's BMI every other year until their 13th birthday.

Those kids who were a healthy weight or underweight generally gained extra weight at each two-year check-up if their parents perceived them to be overweight.

Sutin surmises parents who thought their children were too large, whether or not they were, could have limited the amount of food their kids ate, causing the young ones to rebel and eat more than they normally would.

Or the moms and dads could have criticized the children about their weight, which could have led to overeating or avoidance of physical activity. Sutin continued by acknowledging that neither of these possibilities could be tested using the information available from the study in Australia.

The data from the "Longitudinal Study of Australian Children" was used to examine parental perceptions of child weight status and to review changes in BMI scores for the same children from the time they were 4- to 13-years-old, writes Science Daily, which referenced materials from the University of Liverpool.

Dr. Eric Robinson from the University of Liverpool's Institute of Psychology, Health, and Society, said:

"Contrary to popular belief, parental identification of child overweight is not protective against further weight gain. Rather, it is associated with more weight gain across childhood. Further research is needed to understand how parental perceptions of child weight may counter-intuitively contribute to obesity."

When the study began, three-quarters of the young people were a healthy weight for their height. Approximately 20% were obese or overweight and about 5% were underweight.

One limiting factor in the study was that researchers used only height and weight as measurements. They did not include another pointer to unhealthy weight called adiposity, which is an unnecessary fat around the belly, according to Reuters' Lisa Rapaport.

Also left out of the research were reasons why moms and dads thought their kids were overweight and what actions they took to reverse the problem.

Jerica Berge, a researcher at the University of Minnesota who wasn't involved in the study, suggested that:

"Parents who perceive their child as overweight may also engage in weight conversations with their child, such as telling their child that they are fat and need to lose weight."

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Randy Dotinga shares that Sutin suggests parents talk to their kids about being healthy instead of focusing on weight. Families should also find plenty of chances for physical activity and healthy eating in their daily lives.

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