Only 29.1% of parents in America whose children are overweight say their doctor mentioned this problem to them, the rest do not recall ever being asked about their child’s bodyweight by a physician or any health care professional, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine reported in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

The 29.1% figure is much better than ten years ago – 19.4% in 1999 – but still worryingly low, the authors added.

Lead author, Eliana M. Perrin MD, MPH, said:

“Parents might be more motivated to follow healthy eating and activity advice if they knew their children were overweight, but very few parents of overweight children say they have ever heard that from their doctor.

As health care providers, it’s our job to screen for overweight and obesity and communicate those screening results in sensitive ways, and we are clearly either not doing it or not doing it in a way that families can hear or remember. While we’ve done better in recent years, clearly there’s more work to be done.”

Perrin and team set out to determine what the trends were on parents being told by health care professionals that their child was overweight or obese over the last ten years. They also aimed to find out what characteristics were linked to such notification.

The researchers carried out a secondary statistical analysis of data that had been gathered from 4,985 children whose BMI (body mass index) was above the 85th percentile, based on their weight and height. The children were aged from 2 to 15 years. The period studied spanned 1999-2008.

The authors found that:

  • in 1999, only 19.4% of parents recalled their doctor or any healthcare professionals talking to them about their child’s overweight/obesity
  • In 2004 the percentage rose to 23.4%
  • In 2007-2008 the figure reached 29.1%
  • In 2007-2008, only 58% of parents whose children were very obese remember ever being talked to about their child’s weight by a doctor or anybody in the medical team

On referring to future studies, Dr. Penn said:

“We need to figure out two things: How much does communication of weight status influence parents’ behaviors? And, if hearing that their children are overweight is as big a wakeup call to changing lifestyle as we know from some other small studies, we need to figure out where this communication is breaking down so we can do better in the future. Our research group is working on both those issues.”

In an Abstract in the journal, the authors concluded:

“Fewer than one-quarter of parents of overweight children report having been told that their child was overweight. While reports of notification have increased over the last decade (perhaps because of revised definitions of overweight and obesity, increased concern about children with BMIs in the 85th to 95th sex- and age-specific percentiles, or improved recall by parents), further research is necessary to determine where and why communication of weight status breaks down.”

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Childhood obesity raises the risk of developing physical, emotional and mental problems

In the USA, from the early 1980s to 2000 the childhood obesity rate nearly tripped, and then slowed down to reach 17% by the end of 2006. By the end of 2008, the prevalence of obesity and overweight among children reached 32% – that is nearly one third of all kids. A 2011 national cohort study found that nearly one third of babies/toddlers aged from 9 months to two years were overweight/obese.

Obesity during childhood can be the cause of both physical and mental problems. Obese kids are frequently teased by their classmates. In some cases they may be harassed or discriminated against by members of their own family. A child who is obese has a higher chance of suffering from low self-esteem and/or depression.

An obese child’s likelihood of growing up to become an obese adult is considerably higher compared to other children. Obesity is linked to a much greater risk of subsequently developing diabetes type 2, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, sleeping difficulties, many cancers, liver disease, depression and respiratory problems.

Several studies have shown obesity during the teen years is linked to higher mortality rates during adulthood.

Written by Christian Nordqvist