By: Nicholas Bakalar
Many parents apparently believe their children are leaner than they actually are.
A review of studies published in Pediatrics found that two-thirds of parents underestimate the weight of their offspring.
“If parents don’t recognize that their children are overweight, that prevents them from undertaking actions to correct it,” said the lead author, Alyssa Lundahl, a graduate student in psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “They’re in denial.”
Ms. Lundahl and her colleagues reviewed 121 studies that included more than 80,000 parental estimates of the weight of their children who were between the ages of 2 and 19. More than half of parents of overweight and obese children underestimated their weight, and so did about 14 percent of parents of normal weight children. Parents were most likely to underestimate the weight of 2- to 5-year olds.
The reasons for the misunderstanding are not known, but the scientists suggest that the news media present a stereotypical picture of overweight children as severely obese and that this distorts parents’ understanding. It may also be that parents are resistant to stigmatizing their children as fat. Some parents may believe their children could not be overweight because they are physically active and have no obvious health problems.
“When health care professionals are able to correct a parent’s false impression,” Ms. Lundahl said, “they are more likely to do something about it.”