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Many Parents May Be in Denial of Their Children’s Obesity and Health, Study Shows

Parents in denial of children’s capabilities or talents are common and usually harmless. But when it comes to a child’s health, being in denial could have damaging effects on that child’s well-being.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, and Brown University in Rhode Island surveyed parents of first-time patients at a pediatric obesity clinic, assessing the families’ willingness to help their children lose weight.

About 31 percent of these parents considered their obese or overweight children’s health to be “excellent,” and 28 percent of the parents did not believe their children’s heavy weight affected their health.

The parents who were surveyed had already enrolled their children in a program to treat obesity at a specialty clinic in Providence, Rhode Island. Parents of 202 children in the program were surveyed from November 2008 to August 2009.

“I think many parents may think that being slightly chubby is OK, and that their child will grow out of it,” says Dr. Kyung E. Rhee, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego, and the study’s lead author, to Live Science.

The findings were published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The survey assessed the readiness of parents to make behavioral changes around their children’s eating patterns and exercise habits. About 40 percent of parents had not made any lasting diet changes, and 60 percent hadn’t gotten around to encouraging more physical activity.

Parents also were asked about their own weight and health, and their perceptions of their children’s health. Those who believed their own weight was a problem were less ready to make changes to their children’s diets. Those with older children were less likely to encourage physical activity.

This comes on the heels of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s report that more than one-third of overweight and obese children do not see themselves as so.

“Parents and caregivers can help prevent childhood obesity by providing healthy meals and snacks, daily physical activity and nutrition education,” says the New York State Department of Health website.

Here are some tips to how parents and caregivers can prevent childhood obesity. Note that weight loss is not considered a good option for young children, unless the diet is under the supervision of a medical professional:

  • Focus on good health, not a certain weight goal. Teach and model healthy and positive attitudes toward food and physical activity without emphasizing body weight.
  • Focus on the family. Do not set overweight children apart. Involve the whole family and work to gradually change the family’s physical activity and eating habits.
  • Establish daily meal and snack times, and eat together as frequently as possible. Make a wide variety of healthful foods available based on the Food Guide Pyramid for Young Children. Determine what food is offered and when, and let the child decide whether and how much to eat.
  • Plan sensible portions. Use the Food Guide Pyramid for Young Children as a guide.

S.C. Rhyne is a blogger and novelist in New York City. Follow the author on Twitter @ReporterandGirl, and visit her website at

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