With more than 12.5 million children and adolescents in the U.S. deemed as obese, it’s becoming more and more of a problem. And the issue seems to no longer lie just in the age of those children – which keeps getting younger – but also in the parents’ ability to assess their child’s individual health.
New studies are showing that it’s difficult for parents to know what a healthy weight is for their toddler-aged children. After all, baby fat is cute, right? Well maybe, but depending on how much of it there is.
A group of researchers in the Baltimore, Maryland, area gathered a group of 281 mothers from local clinics that served primarily low-income families. Seventy-one percent of the participants were African-American mothers. Researchers chose primarily low-income families because that demographic has a higher risk of becoming overweight or obese.
In the study, participants were shown a collection of toddler silhouettes in a range of sizes and weight, and were asked to pick which one best matched their own child. They were also asked which silhouette they most desired their child to resemble. Both mothers and children were also measured for weight and height.
What researchers found was that mothers with overweight toddlers were generally satisfied with their child’s appearance. And mothers with underweight toddlers were much more likely to get the assessment correct – as well as be unhappy with the situation.
More specifically, researchers found that four percent of the mothers with overweight kids, and 21 percent of mothers with kids at a healthy weight wanted their kids to weigh more.
The study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, was led by Erin Hager, an assistant professor in the pediatrics department at the University of Maryland med school in Baltimore.
Hager told NPR that the primary concern is that perceptions are likely to drive behavior, and that parents control what their toddlers eat. She also said that the results suggest doctors should be more proactive and intentional about talking to their patients and families about their weight – specifically what a healthy weight for their child actually is. This is because, says Hager, “Seventy-five percent of overweight kids have never been told that by a pediatrician.”
Another positive result of the study is that it showed just how difficult it can be to recognize whether or not a child is overweight, since being overweight is becoming the norm for so many children and adults in our society. One website that provides resources for monitoring the health of a child is kidshealth.org, where you can find information on anything from proper growth rates to medical problems to proper emotions and behaviors.