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Overweight Children Now Seen as Healthy by Parents

obesity-1_0A new study published in the journal Pediatrics reports that American mothers are now viewing their overweight children as “healthy,” and the phenomenon is growing.

Researchers from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro examined data collected from the National Health and Nutrition Examination surveys from 1988 to 1994 (2,871 children) and 2005 to 2010 (about 3,200 children). All of the parents surveyed had children between the ages of six and 11.

Overall, there was a 24 percent decrease between the surveys of overweight and obese children who were correctly perceived as so by parents. However, there was an increase in the perception of children as overweight by their parents in low-income and African American families. This may partially be explained by the increase in public health education initiatives in these neighborhoods.

For example, a 2012 study from the University of Bristol in the U.K., saw an increase in participation in community exercise programs in low-income communities after using a well-funded social marketing campaign.  The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initiative called “HealthierUS” provided funding to community-based programs to increase physical activity, improve nutrition, and other services in low-income areas. The results showed increased positive health outcomes in a state by state basis. The CDC implemented this in 2003.

However,  these positive changes were not seen in all communities nationwide.  “As the prevalence of pediatric obesity has tripled within decades, the socially accepted ideal body weight may also be shifting accordingly,” Dr. Jian Zhang, the author of the study, said to The Week reporter. “At a certain point, if no effective strategies are taken now to reverse this trend, all kids are obese, and they continuously carry the extra weight and the risk of various health problems into adulthood.”

By the numbers, about 21 percent of parents of overweight boys saw their children as overweight in the 1990s compared to 16 percent in the later study. And more so for parents of girls, from 39 to 22 percent.

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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