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Parents Fail to Recognise Children's Excess Weight

February 2007 - A survey by researchers at Deakin's Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition in Australia has found that the majority of parents with obese children lack awareness or concern about their children's weight. However a significant proportion had tried strategies to avoid excess weight gain.

The study of more than 1100 families found that 89 per cent of parents of overweight 5-6 year-olds were unaware that their child was obese and 71 per cent did not think their child's weight was problematic. In the case of older children (10-12 years) 63 per cent were unaware their child was overweight and 43 per cent did not think their child's weight was something to be concerned about.

Professor David Crawford, head of Deakin's Centre said:

"These are quite troubling results and suggest that current obesity prevention campaigns are not hitting the mark with parents. Parents are part of the front line in the battle to reverse the trend of obesity in children, it is therefore essential that they are armed with information and practical strategies that they understand and can easily build into their daily lives."

Professor Crawford commented that it was not altogether surprising that many parents were unaware their child was overweight given that "many adults are not able to recognize overweight in themselves."

He suggested that reasons for failure to recognize excess weight in children include the tendency of some parents, particularly mothers, to be alerted only if their child is teased about their weight at school or is unable to undertake normal physical activity. In addition, some overweight may go unnoticed as childhood obesity becomes more common.

Despite parents' lack of recognition, the study found that a substantial proportion had used strategies to help prevent excess weight gain. These included promoting a balanced diet, encouraging physical activity, reducing the amount of junk food, limiting the amount of fat and sugar, and increasing fruit consumption.

Professor Crawford commented that while this was encouraging, less than 10 per cent of parents used increased consumption of fruit and vegetables as a strategy, and few tried to regulate their child's intake of high-energy drinks or the amount of time spent watching television.


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