Parents Think Their Obese Kids Are Healthy

Photo: Commedy Central

Childhood obesity is a big problem in the United States, and it can be an even trickier one to tackle than adult obesity. With kids, you have to deal with a whole extra variable: parents. A new study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics helps explain why this might sometimes be a complicating factor — parents don’t appear to be very good at understanding whether their kids are healthy.

The press release has the rich-creamery details:

The study is based on a survey of 202 parents whose children were enrolled in an obesity clinic at the Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island in 2008 and 2009. The survey probed parents’ readiness to take actionable steps to improve their child’s eating habits and physical activity levels. The children ranged in age from 5 to 20 years old, with an average age of 13.8 years. More than two-thirds were female, and almost all (94 percent) were clinically classified as obese.

Although most of the children had been referred to the obesity clinic by a primary care provider and had metabolic markers of obesity, 31.4 percent of parents perceived their child’s health as excellent or very good and 28 percent did not perceive their child’s weight as a health concern.

What’s striking, of course, is that these were kids in an obesity clinic. Of course they’re unhealthy!

This could be seen as a version of the so-called “Lake Wobegon effect”: We tend to rate ourselves higher than we should on a variety of dimensions. It’s easy to see how admitting that your child is unhealthy could entail a bit of ego damage — that kid didn’t get that way on his or her own — but it’s also easy to see how these sorts of delusional beliefs could act as a roadblock between unhealthy kids and the treatment or diet regiments they need.