I’ve talked many times about the rise of obesity in the UK and how this epidemic is affecting our children. In the UK, one in five children age 10-11 are obese and one in three are overweight or obese, with those figures steadily on the rise. I wasn’t surprised, therefore, to see recent statistics showing that most parents simply do not recognise their child as being overweight. No parent would deliberately put their child at risk of diabetes and other future health problems if they could see what was in front of their face. Despite this, I see many mothers and fathers who come to clinic, offspring in tow, to talk about their own weight issues and worries about their own health….and yet, their children are clearly obese and at risk too. In the study, less than 2% of parents of very overweight children accurately identified this, with more than a third of all parents in the study underestimating their child’s real weight.
Why are we failing to spot it, let alone address it?
First off, we all know that our own children are pretty much perfect! I guess it’s a mother’s love that fails to see the problems in their own child. It’s so much easier to turn a blind eye to the weight creeping on, labelling it as ‘puppy-fat’, than address a difficult problem.
Also, many of us fail to see our own obesity as an issue – so it’s no surprise we don’t worry about it in our kids. As two-thirds of us are now overweight, making it the norm, we are less likely to see it as a problem because the majority of others are overweight too!
What’s more, it is a difficult tightrope to tread between making our kids overly self-conscious and dieting-obsessed but ensuring they eat healthily. Fifty percent of women reportedly start dieting in their teens and many then end up yo-yo dieting for decades…not something we want to push our own daughters into. I don’t know about you but I still struggle to get the balance right between trying to steer my kids towards healthier choices without making it a huge deal that could affect their outlook on their own bodies and eating behaviour.
That task is made even more difficult when we are surrounded by massive marketing of unhealthy food, much of it directed at kids. To make it even worse, more and more of these food items are being labelled as ‘healthy’ or ‘natural’ when they are often full of sugar. Parents have to be on the ball to avoid falling prey to these marketing ploys. They need to have the diplomatic skills of United Nation’s envoys to avoid the supermarket tantrums as kids insist on those sugary cereals that come with a free toy, or the sweets that still sit at the checkouts in certain stores.
It is hard to give a good example to our kids when our own eating behaviour and body image have been skewed by years of yo-yo-dieting, misleading health advice and media pressure. If we develop a better relationship with healthy eating and exercise, then not only will our own bodies benefit, but our children will have a great example that they can learn from. As a result, they’ll be able to become the happy, healthy adults that we want them to be.
Let’s take off those parental rose-tinted specs and ensure we spot any weight-related issues developing in our children. Only when have faced up to the problem (in ourselves as well as our kids) can we start to make some slow, gentle changes to behaviour in the whole family towards a healthier way of life.
J. A. Black, M. Park, J. Gregson, C. L. Falconer, B. White, A. S. Kessel, S. Saxena, R. M. Viner, S. Kinra. Child obesity cut-offs as derived from parental perceptions: cross-sectional questionnaire. British Journal of General Practice, 2015; 65 (633): DOI. 1 Apr. 2015.
Nielsen,. Global Health And Wellness Survey. Nielsen, 2015. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.