More than half of parents underestimate how fat their children are – and so do doctors, research suggests.
According to a new study, parents prefer to use terms such as “big boned”, “thick” or “solid” and frequently underestimate whether their child is overweight or obese.
A total of 54% of mothers and fathers surveyed thought their children were lighter than they were, while 34% of children and adolescents underestimated their weight.
Doctors also tended to misjudge children’s weights.
Researchers found that less educated parents and those who were overweight themselves were more likely to think their child was not overweight.
Parents of younger children were less accurate at judging their child’s weight, especially in girls.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Nobody wants to think of themselves or their child as overweight or unhealthy.
“But the stark truth is that overweight and obese children face numerous, serious health-related problems – both physical and mental – in the years ahead, if their weight is not addressed.
“This study shows how underestimation is prevalent across the board – including amongst healthcare professionals – and highlights the importance of taking accurate measurements, so that appropriate and consistent interventions can be implemented to support a child to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle.
“It also emphasises how vital it is to be frank about weight from an early age as forging healthy behaviours in early life will have a very real impact on a patient’s long-term health and well-being into adulthood.”
The findings were presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow and examined data from 87 worldwide studies, which looked at 24,774 children and their parents.
In 2017 to 2018, figures showed that 12.8% of English children in Reception year – aged between four to five-years-old – were overweight, and a further 9.5% were obese.
When Year 6 children – those aged between 10 and 11 years old – were surveyed, 14.2% were overweight and 20.1% were obese.
Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: “Millions of parents are in denial about their own and their children’s weight and they are doing their kids no favours at all since, as the researchers point out, they are denied the help to prevent them spiralling into becoming seriously overweight or obese.
“The greater tragedy is that the health profession has for years colluded with this medical error by not requiring its staff to assess children’s weight routinely, by not telling the parents the true figures and by not intervening to correct excess weight gain until it’s too late.”
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