As childhood obesity rates continue to rise worldwide, we are now approaching the level of a major public health crisis. While that is common knowledge among experts, the alarming news doesn't seem to reach millions upon millions of parents who keep overfeeding their offspring with unhealthy meals and fattening treats. In fact, many of those whose children have been diagnosed as overweight or obese insist that there is nothing wrong with a little chubbiness at a young age.
A recent study published in the medical journal Childhood Obesity found that most parents perceived their kids' weight as "about right," even when there was ample evidence to the contrary.
For the study, which was conducted by the New York University Langone Medical Center, researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a project of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), involving thousands of children between 1988 and 1994, and again between 2007 and 2012.
According to the findings, 95 to 97 per cent of parents of overweight boys, and 88 to 93 per cent of parents of overweight girls thought their kids were within a normal weight range. And although many children in the later study were significantly heavier than in the earlier one, the parental perception did not noticeably change.
The study results are of particular concern because eating habits tend to form early in life and parents have the greatest influence on young children's eating behavior. But when parents adhere to poor diets themselves or are ignorant about the nutritional needs of their little ones, the consequences can be dire. Eating disorders that develop during childhood can lead to a number of diet-related diseases, which can continue and potentially worsen in adolescence and adulthood.
One of the problems we're facing is that many parents compare their own children to other kids in deciding whether they are overweight, instead of consulting with pediatricians or using science-backed growth charts. They rather look to neighbours and peers as the standard, according to Dustin Duncan, ScD, an assistant professor at the Department of Population Health at NYU School of Medicine and lead author of the study report.
Another issue is that children with weight problems often find themselves stigmatized, which makes it even harder to address those constructively. Parents will be hesitant to add to the embarrassment young ones already feel by signaling their disapproval, explains David L. Katz, MD, the director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center and editor-in-chief of the Childhood Obesity journal. Oftentimes, this results in parents ignoring the long-term consequences before it's too late.
The best approach to fighting childhood obesity, experts say, is educating the adults in the household. They are supposed to decide what kinds of food are purchased, what portion sizes are served, and how many meals and snacks are made available throughout the day. If they lead by example, their youngsters will follow suit -- and everyone will benefit.
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