Parents Who Think Their Children Are Overweight May Be Doing More Harm Than Good, Study Suggests

Parents Who Think Their Children Are Overweight May Be Doing More Harm Than Good, Study Suggests

Researchers at the University of Liverpool and Florida State University College of Medicine investigated if parental perceptions of a child’s weight are associated with weight gain across childhood. The team found that, contrary to popular belief, children of parents who identified them as overweight are more likely to gain further weight — whether the initial perceptions were accurate or not.

The study, “Parental Perception of Weight Status and Weight Gain Across Childhood,” was recently published in the journal Pediatrics.

When children are overweight, parents often thought to fail to accurately perceive and identify a child’s weight problem. Such misperceptions have been deemed a public health concern, but few research efforts have been made to assess the effect of parental perception on the weight gain in children.

The researchers, led by Dr. Eric Robinson from Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, and Assistant Professor Angelina Sutin from Florida State, aimed to investigate how parental perception associates with weight fluctuations in children, and if such perceptions exert a protective effect against weight gain.

The researchers used data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, and determined body mass index (BMI-Z) scores in children ages 4 to 13. BMI-Z scores are measures that include a  child’s age, sex, body mass, and an appropriate reference standard, giving researchers an adjusted relative weight value. In total, the study included 3,557 children and their parents.

Results indicated that children whose parents perceived them as being “overweight” gained more weight, assessed as an increase in BMI-Z score, as opposed to children whose parents perceived their weight as being “about right.” Moreover, researchers observed that this finding did not depend on the child’s actual weight, and that the link between parental perception of an overweight child and future weight gain was similar in children whose parents accurately and inaccurately judged their weight.

“Contrary to popular belief, parental identification of child overweight is not protective against further weight gain. Rather, it is associated with more weight gain across childhood. Further research is needed to understand how parental perceptions of child weight may counterintuitively contribute to obesity,” Dr. Robinson concluded in a news release.

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