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Obese and Overweight Kids Do not Know they are Heavy

Update Date: Jul 23, 2014 09:22 AM EDT
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Obesity is a disease that can lead to several other health conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular illnesses. In order to treat the disease, people must first acknowledge the fact that they are overweight or obese. In a new government survey, researchers interviewed children and teenagers and found that many of them do not realize that they are overweight or obese.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) administered the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to more than 6,100 children between eight- and 15-years-old from 2005 to 2012. The survey collected information on the children's physical build, such as weight and height, as well as their perception of their body.

The team found that overall, 30 percent of children and teens grouped themselves in the wrong weight status. Around 81 percent of overweight boys and 71 percent of overweight girls believed that their weights fit in the normal category for their age and height. 48 percent of obese boys and 36 percent of obese girls thought that their weights were normal. 13 percent of the children who were classified as having a healthy weight believed that they were underweight.

"When overweight kids underestimate their weight, they are less likely to take steps to reduce their weight or do additional things to control their weight, like adopt healthier eating habits or exercise regularly," lead author of the report, Neda Sarafrazi, a nutritional epidemiologist at NCHS, said according to USA Today. "On the other hand, when normal weight or underweight kids overestimate their weight, they might have unhealthy weight-control behaviors."

The team noted that many obese kids believed that they were underweight. The misperception with one's weight was the most evident in children of non-Hispanic black and Mexican-American descent, boys, and children from low-income families.

"As our country gets heavier, children don't necessarily see it as abnormal," Dr. Daniel Neides, medical director for the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, stated to TIME. Dr. Neides was not involved with the study. "People are very sensitive to weight and to growth charts, and [parents] will argue it hasn't been updated in years. We feel like young people are immortal and will be fine, and that population also doesn't see the long-term implications."

The study's findings suggest that children and teens are not being properly educated about what a healthy body should look like. Parents and health professionals must talk to their children about health, covering topics ranging from what a healthy weight is to eating well for the body.

The study, "Perception of Weight Status in U.S. Children and Adolescents Aged 8-15 Years, 2005-2012," is available here.

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