Research from Australia suggests that more than four in ten parents don't know if their children are under or overweight and because of this they are
unlikely to help their children correct their weight and the children themselves tend to under or overestimate their body size.
The study was part of doctoral research based at the University of Melbourne's School of Behavioural Science and was conducted by Dr Pene Schmidt who was recently awarded a Doctor of Psychology at the University.
One of Schmidt's key findings was that the percentage of under and overweight children in the group she studied varied depending on whether she used body mass index (BMI) or wast circumference to classify them. Using BMI resulted in more children being overweight than using waist circumference.
Other studies have looked at parents' perceptions of their children's weight but Schmidt's study is believed to be the first to use both BMI and waist circumference.
The study also found that children who were not classified as being of normal weight were more likely to under or overestimate their body size; and a small percentage of parents thought their overweight children were underweight or their underweight children were overweight.
Schmidt said that the study showed there was a need to overhaul the way children's weight is classified so as to give parents better information about what is the normal weight range for children of different age groups. She said parents were unlikely to make the right changes if they had the wrong perception about their children's weight.
For the study, Schmidt analysed survey data on over 2,100 children aged 4 to 12 living in the Australian state of Victoria. The data also included information from their parents.
In her analysis, Schmidt compared BMI and waist circumference measurements of the children (objective measures) with the parents' perceptions of whether their children were underweight, average, or overweight (subjective measures).
The analysis showed that:
- 43 per cent of parents of underweight children thought their children were of average weight.
- 49 per cent of parents of overweight children thought their children were of average weight.
- Over 80 per cent of parents of average weight children correctly believed them to be of average weight.
- 1.4 per cent of parents of underweight children thought their children were overweight.
- 2.5 per cent of parents of overweight children thought their children were underweight.
- Parents were more likely to think their sons were underweight and their daughters were overweight.
- Parents were less likely to be correct about whether their children were underweight.
- Parents of boys were less likely to be correct about whether their sons were overweight.
- Twice as many parents were worried about their children being overweight compared to being underweight.
- Only 40 per cent of underweight girls and 50 per cent of underweight boys were right about whether they were under, over or of average weight.
"This study also suggests a strong social bias among both parents and children towards thinness," said Schmidt.
She said it was important to get public health messages about obesity prevention across in the right way.
"In particular we need to make sure that the focus on reducing the number of overweight children does not have the adverse impact of increasing the number of underweight children," explained Schmidt.
The press statement did not mention any plans to publish the findings.
Source: The University of Melbourne.
Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD.