Weight loss and obesity can be tough subjects to approach, since health and body image can carry significant emotional baggage for many of us. This is especially true when it comes to parents of obese children.
According to a recent study conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the UCL Institute of Child Health, the vast majority of parents underestimate the extent of their child’s obesity and are unable to recognize the need for intervention. Because parents are so likely to misperceive the weight of their children, it’s important to safeguard against these tendencies with an honest assessment of your child’s health.
“This is a very difficult and highly emotional topic for parents to face, much less discuss with a health care professional,” says Dr. Dirk. Still, he urges parents to address such issues objectively.
“When it comes to your child’s current and future health, it is important to put aside feelings and face facts. Parents may think their child’s obesity is a personal failure. It is best to approach the situation as a concerned parent providing the best care for their child.”
While weight loss isn’t all about numbers, the figures published in this study don’t lie. About one-third of parents featured in the study underestimated their children’s body mass index (BMI) in a simple classification that categorized kids as underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese. While a total of 369 children studied were properly classified as obese, only four parents were able to recognize their own kids as such.
The problem, Dr. Dirk explains, is that childhood obesity often sets kids up for a lifetime of weight-loss and weight-related health struggles.
“Obese children go on to become obese teenagers and then become obese adults,” Dr. Dirk says. “Obesity in teenage years threatens obese adults with major medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and sleep apnea,” he cautions.
Obesity increases emotional and psychological risks, as well. “We can not ignore the difficulties of unkind social interactions between teenagers,” Dr. Dirk says. “It is well known that obese teenagers can be isolated and bullied to the point of exclusion.”
So what can we do to combat childhood obesity? First, parents must remember that obesity is a treatable condition and by no means represents a failure on their part.
That means starting by taking the child to a doctor for a thorough physical examination and, possibly, blood tests and X-rays. Then the doctor will make recommendations, which may include nutrition counseling with a dietitian, therapy sessions with a nutrition counselor and possibly a referral to a specialist.
While broaching the subject of child obesity can seem daunting, the health benefits and overall improvement in quality of life for children struggling with weight-related issues are well worth the tough discussion. After all, kids should be kids—healthy and free to participate fully in the activities they love.