A large majority of parents of obese children perceive their kids as “about the right weight,” according to a new study published in the journal Childhood Obesity.
The new research was led by New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center and included researchers from Georgia Southern University and Fudan University in Shanghai.
The study is the first to analyze the lack of change over time of parents’ perception of their preschool child’s weight status. The findings are important because parents with accurate perceptions of their children’s weight are more likely to take action to help their child become healthy.
For the study, researchers observed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey uses physical examinations and interviews to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the U.S.
The researchers studied two groups of children over two time periods: 3,839 children between 1988 to 1994, and 3,151 children from 2007 to 2012. In these surveys, parents were asked whether they considered their child, ages two to five years old, to be overweight, underweight, or just about the right weight.
The findings showed that nearly all parents of overweight boys from the first study group perceived their sons as ”about the right weight” (97 percent), with a very similar result from the second study group (95 percent).
Parents with overweight girls did only slightly better; approximately 88 percent in the first study perceived their daughters as “about the right weight” and 93 percent in the more recent survey.
What was particularly disturbing, said the researchers, was that the children in the second study group were significantly more overweight than the children in the first study group, yet the parents’ perceptions generally remained the same.
“The results are consistent with past studies in which a considerably high number of parents incorrectly perceived their overweight/obese preschool child as being ‘just about the right weight’,” says Dustin Duncan, Sc.D., lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone and Affiliated Faculty Member at NYU’s Global Institute of Public Health.
The findings also showed that parents’ misperception of their child being “about the right weight” was most pronounced among African-American families. Furthermore, as family income increased, parents were more likely to correctly perceive their children as overweight or obese.
“This was especially concerning because African-American and low-income children in the U.S. have the highest rates of obesity,” Duncan said.
Duncan also notes that parents often compare their own child to other kids in deciding if their child is overweight. Instead of using science-backed growth charts as the standard with which to compare their child, parents may be looking at the child’s peers as the standard, he said.
“Research examining social comparison theory suggests that individuals evaluate themselves in relation to others, rather than against an absolute scale,” said Duncan.
Source: NYU Langone Medical Center