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Study: Obese Kids Often Seen as 'Healthy' by Parents

Overweight boy (10-12) standing on beach, rear view
Photograph by Getty Images

Parents of overweight or obese children often perceive their kids as "healthy," according to a study in the September issue of Pediatrics.

In the study "Generational Shift in Parental Perceptions of Overweight Among School-Aged Children," researchers asked parents in two separate national surveys whether they considered their children (ages 6 to 11) to be underweight, overweight or just the right weight. One survey was conducted between 1988–1994 and the other between 2005-2010.

Researchers found that the parents (mostly mothers) interviewed during the most recent time period were nearly 30 percent "more likely than mothers interviewed earlier to believe that their obese child is at just the right weight (83 percent for boys, 78 percent for girls)," according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which publishes the journal.

The parents that experienced the largest increase between surveys came from low-income families.

What scientists concluded was that parents might not know exactly what being "overweight" means, because the mothers often compare their children to his or her friends or peers instead of consulting growth charts or other tools.

The problem is that misperception prevents those parents from seeking help or recognizing the health risks associated with obesity, the researchers say.

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