Previous research has found that parents are pretty bad at correctly
guessing how much their children weigh. But the current study runs
counter to the popular belief that kids might slim down when their
mothers and fathers think they’re too heavy.
“Generally, parents of healthy weight kids in this study assessed
their weight status accurately,” said co-author Dr. Eric Robinson of
the University of Liverpool in the U.K.
“It may be that once a child is recognized as being overweight,
parenting styles change in a way that promotes weight gain - i.e.
serving larger meals or concerns over physical overexertion,”
Robinson added by email.
To see how parents’ ideas about children’s weight influenced future
weight gain for kids, Robinson and co-author Angelina Sutin of
Florida State University College of Medicine in Tallahassee examined
data on 3,557 Australian children and their parents.
Children joined the study when they were 4 to 5 years old and
researchers followed them until age 12 or 13.
At the start of the study, three quarters of kids were a normal
weight for their height. About 20 percent were overweight or obese,
while roughly 5 percent weighed too little.
Four out of five overweight children at age 4 or 5 were seen as
normal weight by their parents, the researchers report in the
For the roughly one in five overweight kids whose parents saw them
as heavy, their odds of becoming even heavier relative to their
height by the end of the study were much greater than if their
parents didn’t see them as overweight at the beginning.
One limitation of the study is that it relied only on weight and
height measurements to assess whether children were at a healthy
weight, the authors note. The researchers didn’t look at another
indicator of unhealthy weight known as adiposity, or excessive fat
around the belly.
Researchers also lacked data on why parents thought children were
overweight or what they did about it, the authors note.
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“It’s hard to say what is going on here without some additional
information about the parents’ weight status, socioeconomic status,
and information about resources in the community such as access to
healthy foods and safe spaces for physical activity,” Davene Wright,
a researcher at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the
University of Washington who wasn’t involved in the study, said by
Many factors, including poverty, consumption of sodas and sugar
sweetened juices, sleep time and exercise can all influence
childhood weight, noted Dr. Sandra Hassink, medical director of the
American Academy of Pediatrics Institute for a Healthy Childhood
“Parents should be monitoring the growth of their children at every
pediatric well visit,” Hassink, who wasn’t involved in the study,
said by email.
Because parental perceptions of weight appear connected to future
weight gain in the study, parents and other family caregivers may
also need to take a close look at how they interact with overweight
children to ensure they don’t make the problem worse, said Jerica
Berge, a researcher at the University of Minnesota who wasn’t
involved in the study.
“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,” Berge said by email.
“Or, a parent may engage in food restriction behaviors if they
perceive that their child is overweight,” Berge added. “Both of
these behaviors – weight talk and food restriction – have been shown
in prior research to be associated with childhood obesity.”
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/22QeXlX Pediatrics, online April 21, 2016.
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