Parents misjudge their own children’s weight

Many parents misjudge their children’s weight status and, as a result, are not actively trying to help them achieve a healthy weight.

This is the finding from a study led by Dr Matt Merema from the Department of Health in Western Australia, and published online in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

“Parents of overweight or obese children often perceive their child to be in a lower body mass index (BMI) category than is actually the case,” co-author Dr Christina Pollard said.

“Being overweight or obese in childhood can lead to developmental, mental health and physical health problems.”

Parents were first asked if their child was underweight, normal weight, overweight or very overweight, and then asked if they had any intentions to help their child lose weight, gain weight, stay the same weight, or were not trying to do anything about their child’s weight.

“Parents who correctly perceived their child’s weight status as overweight or very overweight typically intended to intervene, whereas most parents who were unaware did not.”

“Much of what we assume about ourselves and others is informed by social comparison. As some parents were unaware of what a ‘healthy’ body weight looks like, our findings suggest that as the mean BMI continues to increase, so too will perceptions of a heavier ‘healthy’ body weight.

“This is a problem because correct perception of overweight or underweight is essential to prompt action and early intervention,” Dr Pollard said.