And this is just what seems to be happening with parents and the loaded issue of their child's weight. Parents of overweight kids can have real trouble understanding that their child is actually overweight. One 2013 review of studies found that over 60 percent of parents of overweight kids didn't know that their child was overweight. And for young kids (ages 2 - 6 years), this number rose to over 85 percent.
While a child's weight has no bearing on his or her character or worth, it can have important lifelong implications for health. Overweight children are at much greater risk of becoming overweight adults, which can then put them at increased risk for a host of weight-related issues ranging from diabetes and cancer to stigmatization and lower lifetime earnings.
With 17 percent of US youth ages 2 - 19 obese and nearly 6 percent extremely obese, it's important that parents, health professionals, and health systems try to be honest about childhood weight so that children have the chance to build healthy behaviors that will benefit them throughout life.
For parents, a good place to start is the CDC’s BMI Calculator for Child and Teen. This tool uses a special calculation of weight, height, gender, and age to estimate whether a child is underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. Because children are still growing and developing, these labels are not always perfectly accurate, so it’s important to bring up any concerns about your child’s weight directly with a healthcare provider.
- Keep track of your child’s weight, but don't obsess about it, and bring up any concerns with a health care provider.
- Help your children focus on healthy food choices and healthy activities rather than on weight and body image.
- Give your children the chance to be physically active every day.
- Limit sweets and processed foods, which are often high in calories as well as carbohydrates that can stimulate hunger.
- Limit TV, tablet, computer, and other screen time to under two hours a day. The less, the better.
- Help your children get enough sleep by setting a bed time and sticking to it every day. Keeping electronics out of the bedroom also helps.
Photo: Family Walk by Thomas Leth-Olsen (CC License, CC BY 2.0)