Are You Calling My Kid Fat?
Unfortunately parents may be walking the journey of denial big time, when it comes to their kids’ weight and health realities. According to a University of California, San Diego School of Medicine study, parents of kids who are clinically obese, are in MAJOR denial. In fact, parents do not often recognize the potentially serious health consequences of childhood obesity, and they may not see the actual “real size” of their kids. They may also be resistant to recognizing excessive weight gain, and they may not be clear on the importance of daily exercise and its impact on helping to control weight.
The study was based on a survey of about 200 parents whose children were already enrolled in an obesity clinic at a children’s hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, between 2008 and 2009. The survey was intended to evaluate parents' readiness to take firm and specific steps to improve their children’s eating and exercise habits. Children in the study were between the ages of five and twenty years old. About two thirds of the kids were female, and almost all the children participants were classified as obese.
The children had been referred to this program because they had been clinically diagnosed by health professionals as obese, and they had clear metabolic markers for obesity. Despite these health realities, 31.4% of the parents viewed their kids as “healthy,” and 28% of parents did not consider their kids’ weight measurements a health concern. Parents who did see a need for change, preferred to focus on nutrition rather than or instead of fitness prescriptions. In fact, about 65% of the parents said that they were already implementing better nutrition (less junk food, more fruits and vegetables) in the home. Only about 41% of the parents were emphasizing more physical activity (in the form of dance, active play, sports, walking).
Not surprisingly, parents who had engaged with their primary care physician regarding the weight issues of their children were actively engaged in changing their kids’ diets. Parents who themselves were continuing to struggle with personal weight issues, were actually less likely to address their kids’ eating habits. Researchers offered that education, income, and race/ethnicity had no bearing on the parents’ likelihood to make dietary changes. Researchers were still stymied by the disconnect between recognizing the importance of children engaging in physical activity, and parents reluctance to strongly embrace the crucial impact of fitness on managing weight.
Researchers suggest that the study indicates the need for early lifestyle education and intervention. I think the study speaks volumes about how parents can be unable or unwilling to deal with a child's weight issues, unless there is strong and meaningful intervention. “Stay out of my business” is often the mantra of parents who feel judged, and it can be a huge roadblock to helping all members of the family to realize that being healthy may not necessarily be natural or intuitive, especially if the parents themselves have been exposed to few healthy examples as they were growing up. That being said, I think many parents do know their kids are overweight, and simply feel overwhelmed with the task of improving lifestyle in the home. Health professionals need to find the right words and strategies so they can help parents and kids to live healthier lives.
Amy Hendel is a Physician Assistant and Health Coach with over 20 years of experience. Noted author, journalist and lifestyle expert, she brings extensive expertise to her monthly shareposts. Her most recent book, The 4 Habits of Healthy Families is available for purchase online, and you can watch her in action on her shows Food Rescue and What's for Lunch? Sign up for her daily health tweets or catch her daily news report at www.healthgal.com.