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Many parents don't admit their child is overweight

A study says that parents don't admit their child as "overweight," but have a correct visual perception.

india Updated: Mar 07, 2006 12:24 IST

Many parents do not identify their child as "overweight," but will select a sketch of a heavier model when asked to choose one representative of their child, new study findings show.

"Comparisons between images and sketches showed that parents' visual perceptions of their children more clearly reflect their child's physical appearance than words they might use to classify the child's weight," study author Dr. Helen J. Binns, of Northwestern University in Chicago told Reuters Health.

"So parents have a correct visual perception, but don't consider that to fit in the medical 'diagnostic categories,"' she added.

Previous studies have found that helping parents recognise their child's overweight status and their willingness to make the necessary behavioral changes is key to their child's treatment. Parents who fail to recognise that their child needs help may not be ready to receive any related counseling or other interventions, researchers say.

Yet, various reports show that many mothers especially those with young children do not consider their overly chubby children to be overweight, with some wrongly believing that their child is "about the right weight."

In the current study, Binns and her team examined parents' perceptions about their child's overweight status and investigated whether sketches may be useful in helping parents recognize their child's problem.

Of the 223 children studied, 20 percent were overweight and 19 percent were at risk for overweight. Over half (60 percent) of the 2- to 17-year-old study participants were under 6 years old.

Similar to previous studies, the researchers found that many parents failed to recognize that their child was overweight. Only about one third (36 percent) of parents correctly identified their child as overweight or at risk for becoming overweight.

However, asked to select a sketch representative of their child, 70 percent selected a middle or heavier sketch, Binns and her team report in this month's issue of Pediatrics.]

This was particularly true for parents of children 6 years or younger, the researchers note.

In addition to choosing the heavier sketches, parents of younger children were also more likely to use words to identify their child as overweight or at risk for overweight, and were more likely to worry about their child's weight.

Overall, 26 percent of parents of overweight or at-risk-for-overweight children said they worried about their child's weight and 18 percent said a doctor had expressed concern about their child being overweight or gaining weight too quickly.

Parents of older children were less likely to worry, unless they considered their child to be less active or slower than his or her peers, or if a doctor had expressed concern about their child's condition, the report indicates.

So what can parents do to address their child's excess weight?

"Start by setting a good example in relationship to foods, physical activity and leisure time activity," Binns advised, noting, "your children are watching you and will follow what you do."

Also, she recommends that parents "play actively" with their children and "decrease the availability of opportunities for sedentary behavior."

First Published: Mar 07, 2006 12:24 IST