Parents’ perceptions of their own children’s weight appear to be somewhat disconnected from reality, according to a new poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and the Harvard School of Public Health.
The poll, released Monday, found that 73 percent of parents think their children are “about the right weight,” while 14 percent think their children are “a little overweight.” Only 1 percent of parents believe their child to be “very overweight,” according to the poll, and 12 percent consider their children to be underweight.
However, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 32 percent of children are overweight and 17 percent are considered obese.
“People often have a hard time making the connection between national problems and their own families,” said Gillian SteelFisher, assistant director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program, in a statement. “Tackling these blind spots can be a difficult, even if necessary, element of public education.”
The three organizations conducted the poll in the fall of 2012, interviewing a total of 1,018 caregivers of children ages 2-17. The majority (87 percent) of respondents were parents, with grandparents, siblings, and other relatives making up the remainder of the respondents.
For children who were already perceived as overweight by their caregivers, 60 percent had a parent or guardian concerned about their weight. Forty-five percent of parents who said their child was underweight or overweight expressed some amount of concern about their child’s weight.
Only 20 percent of the children had a parent or guardian concerned that their child would end up being overweight or obese as an adult, according to the poll.
A vast majority of parents seemed to understand the importance of diet and exercise in terms of childhood obesity. Ninety-five percent of respondents said it was either somewhat or very important for their child to eat in a way that helps maintain or achieve a healthy weight, and 95 percent said the same about their child exercising in a way that helps them maintain or achieve a healthy weight.
However, 44 percent of parents said it was either somewhat or very difficult to ensure that the child eats in such a way, and 36 percent of parents said the same about their children exercising.
“We know that nearly 1 in 3 kids in America is overweight or obese, and that’s a national emergency,” said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and chief executive officer of the RWJF, in a statement. “Better nutrition and more physical activity can help turn this epidemic around, and parents have a unique role to play. Knowing the risks of obesity and dealing with the issue proactively can improve kids’ health now and prevent serious problems down the road.”
This isn’t the first study to find a gap between parents’ perceptions of their children’s weight and reality. A 2010 study by the University of South Florida and Johns Hopkins University found that parents may not realize their preschool-aged children are overweight or obese if a pediatrician hadn’t told them, according to our Early Years blog.
A 2011 study from the Sanford/WebMD Fit program found that 22 percent of parents felt uncomfortable discussing the consequences of being overweight with their children, too.
Want help with promoting and sustaining health in your child? A 2012 publication from the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health offers advice, as reported by our K-12 Parents and the Public blog.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.