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Study: Parents of Obese Kids Often Think Their Kids Are Healthy

Boy measures weight on floor scales. Legs in socks standing at floor scales om hardwood floor in living room.

It's no secret that childhood obesity in the U.S. has become an epidemic in recent decades. (According to the CDC, it's more than doubled in recent decades.) And as parents, we've heard our fair share of evidence to suggest that it's largely our fault: we give them too much fast food; we let them play around on their iPads instead of running around the yard; the list goes on.

But now, researchers are discovering that the role many parents play in their child's weight issues may be a bit more complicated than that. In a recent study, 31 percent of parents with obese or extremely overweight kids were actually unaware that their kids even have a problem to begin with. In fact, many of them considered their child's health to be either "excellent" or "very good."

How come? According to the study's lead author, Dr. Kyung Rhee, it can be hard for parents to stay objective about their child's weight unless someone else steps in — which is often the case.

"I think many parents may think that being slightly chubby is OK, and that their child will grow out of it," Rhee said, adding that it's often the school nurse or pediatrician who has to point the problem out to parents.

Then again, maybe we all think being a little heavier isn't a problem because … well, look around: We're all a little bigger these days. Rhee agrees that this "normalization of obesity" in the U.S. has given us all fuzzy ideas of just what is healthy and what is not.

Still, while many other parents in the study admitted they realized their child was overweight, solving for the issue proved difficult. Sixty-two percent of parents surveyed said they were actively trying to improve their child's diet through adding more fruits and veggies and cutting out sweets and fast food. But when it came to encouraging exercise? Only 41 percent said they were doing anything about their kid's level of activity.

Rhee admits this disparity was surprising, though it probably has something to do with the costs that can be associated with actually getting more active. Whether it's picking up a sport, starting dance classes or joining a gym, there are lots of get-fit-now options out there — but let's be honest, they all cost money. Another possible factor is our own level of physical activity. If parents are less active themselves, they're less likely to encourage that kind of lifestyle in their kids.

And according to Rhee, there's one more problem at play: We're also trying to solve our collective weight problems a bit too late in the game. Rhee suggests we should start as early as possible when it comes to introducing healthier food options, encouraging active play and other healthy behaviors.

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