A research team from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the UCL Institute of Child Health in London recently found that UK parents are not aware their children have a weight problem, unless they are obese. The study published in the British Journal of General Practice, underscores the need to help parents understand the heath risks related with childhood obesity, and the need to promote healthier lifestyles.
Results from the study also revealed that parents’ perceptions of their children’s weight is more underestimated if the children are from a Black, Asian or deprived background and if they are male.
According to the researchers, understanding these variations can help promote strategies to address the issue of childhood obesity. Childhood obesity is a major health problem, and estimations of obesity in children continue to increase both in the US and in the UK. If parents are able to classify their children’s weight they are more likely to make positive changes, according to the study findings. Evidence supporting a relationship between childhood obesity and premature death has led to public health initiatives to make parents change their children’s diet and lifestyle. However, there is some skepticism about the efficacy of these interventions unless parents comprehend how to classify their children’s obesity.
“If parents are unable to accurately classify their own child’s weight, they may not be willing or motivated to enact the changes to the child’s environment that promote healthy weight maintenance,” said senior author of the new study, Dr. Sanjay Kinra, a reader in clinical epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in a recent news release.
With the aim of understanding the scale of the problem, the researchers surveyed parents of 2,976 children from five regions in the UK that were participating in the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP). Results from the NCMP survey revealed that one in every five children aged between 4 and 5 years is obese and that one in every three children is obese by the ages of 10 and 11 years.
Results from the new study revealed that 915 of the parents underestimate their children’s BMI. They also found that out of 369 children classified as obese, only four parents were able to classify their children in this category.
“Measures that decrease the gap between parental perceptions of child weight status and obesity scales used by medical professionals may now be needed in order to help parents better understand the health risks associated with overweight and increase uptake of healthier lifestyles,” said co-author Russell Viner, academic pediatrician and professor at the UCL Institute of Child Health, in the news release.
This research, funded by the National Institute for Health Research is part of the PROMISE study, a project led by Prof. Viner and Dr. Kinra that aims to improve the evaluation and treatment of childhood obesity.