Mother and Child

Do Parents Worry Enough about Kids Being Fat?

A research question that seems to get repeated ad nauseum is: “Do parents worry enough about their kids being fat?” Ask young people with excess weight and they will likely tell you that their weight gets plenty of attention. So please stop asking now.

We’ve been showered this week with publicity for the umpteenth study of this phenomenon. Dustin Duncan and colleagues published a study in the June issue of Childhood Obesity that found “a declining tendency among parents to perceive overweight children appropriately.”

What’s the definition of an inappropriate perception of your child’s weight? It’s responding that your child is “just about the right weight” when their BMI z-score says they have excess weight or obesity. Duncan et al go on to say that the problem is greatest for black children. And they recommend that pediatricians become more aggressive in counseling parents to recognize the appropriate weight for their children.

We could not disagree more.

Children, parents, teachers, and even strangers are doing plenty to call out kids who are fat and it’s not helping. Studies have shown that children with excess weight are already stigmatized by the age of three. Children with obesity are teased and bullied by their peers, labeled as stupid and lazy by teachers, and demeaned by their parents. Research is pretty clear in showing that this does not help with their weight or their health.

Please. We do not need to do a better job of calling out kids with excess weight.

What we do need is options for kids and parents to improve their weight-related health status. But these same people — who are lamenting that parents are not labeling their kids with obesity — have virtually nothing to say about help for families who are already living with obesity. Their call is to “strengthen capacity for childhood obesity prevention.”

Calling for more prevention is an almost meaningless (or even offensive) platitude for people who are living with obesity.

Click here to read the study and here to read a perspective on this subject from Asheley Cockrell Skinner.

Mother and Child, pastel by  Umberto Boccioni from WikiArt

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


 

2 Responses to “Do Parents Worry Enough about Kids Being Fat?”

  1. May 26, 2015 at 1:38 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Yup! It is protective to “not notice” when there are so few options for kids and parents to improve their weight-related health status. For those already afflicted by obesity, they need options and hope. Obesity is a public health problem. 1) We need to know the causes – Making some progress. 2) We need to have effective treatment – Painfully slow progress – worse for the children. 3) We need to have effective prevention – slow progress but there is hope as the causes become more apparent. Lot’s to do – starting with reducing ignorance and bias. Ted, keep up the good work.

  2. May 26, 2015 at 4:08 pm, Ted said:

    Thanks, Allen, for the good work you and Nancy are doing.