A recent study looked into parents perceptions of their obese children's health, with the results exhibiting some worrying misconceptions. The overwhelming consensus was that many parents didn't recognise the serious consequences of of their children being overweight and obese. Further still, parents were quite unaware of the importance of physical activity, particularly amount that their children should be doing per day. Lead author Kyung Rhee explains "Parents have a hard time changing their child's dietary and physical activity behaviours," said the studies lead author. "Our study tells us what factors may be associated with a parent's motivation to help their child become more healthy."
Parents have a difficult task...but NOT an impossible one
It was acknowledged that parents have a harder time keeping their children slim in today's society. We live in a binge culture (on the whole) where we either consume surplus to requirements of food and alcohol (not in the children's case of course) and feel obliged to finish the mammoth portions many food outlets/ restaurants/ parents or guardians plate up. Children are solely dependant on the diet given to them by their parents, and the fact that many parents deem it acceptable to feed them ready meals, processed foods, massive portions and minimal fruit, veg and natural whole foods. So the onus, as a parent or guardian who brought the child into your life is to ensure the diet is calorie controlled and suited to their recommended requirements (not to be confused with their actual requirements based on their current weight should they be overweight). The problems that parents/guardians have is that their children may become very hungry if their dietary composition is poor, satiety (feeling of fullness) may never be satisfied, and this all stems from a lack of good protein and fibre. On top of this, the high amounts of artificial sweeteners that children consume can also play havoc with their hormones leading to excessive hunger. You see, the diet is critical to managing a child's weight for a number of reasons, and the responsibility is entirely on the parents/guardians to deliver this.
Many parents/guardians don't realise there's even a problem...
One of the most notable findings of this study was the ignorance of many parents/ guardians regarding the health implications of being overweight. It's not necessarily the parents fault that they don't know, but the implications of this can be dire for their children. Most of the children in this study had been referred to an obesity clinic by a Nurse or Doctor, but despite this 31.4% of parents perceived their child's health as excellent or very good, with 28% not even considering their child's weight as a health concern! Interestingly, 61.4% of parents thought they were improving their eating habits by increasing fruit and veg and minimising junk food. Conversely, 41.1% of parents (a much smaller number) were actively increasing their child's physical activity levels in order to help their overall health. There appeared to be a gross imbalance between parents/ guardians awareness to the combined importance of improving their children's diet AND physical activity levels.
Act early to improve your child's future eating & drinking habits
The old addage 'you can't teach an old dog new tricks' seems to hold true with this study. Researchers suggest that one of the main ways to counteract the rising numbers of obesity is to intervene early. Their findings showed that parents with children aged 14 or older were far less likely to be successful at incorporating physical activity into their lives than the parents of younger children. Fact is, the future health of these young children depends on the external influencers such as school, social networks i.e. friends they integrate with, and experiences they are exposed to from their family, friends and parents. The problem we have with childhood obesity stems from a cascade of events starting from the parents. Therefore better education for the people that nurture these youngsters is key if we are to reduce the morbidity and mortality rate of future generations to come!
Kyung E. Rhee, Rebecca McEachern, Elissa Jelalian. (2014). Parent Readiness to Change Differs for Overweight Child Dietary and Physical Activity Behaviors. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. DOI:10.1016/j.jand.2014.04.029
Science Daily, (2014). Parents rank their obese children as 'very healthy'. Retrieved 23rd July, 2014, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140721142129.htm