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Obese Children Perceived as "Very Healthy" By Parents

Update Date: Jul 22, 2014 04:33 PM EDT

Many parents are blind to their children's obesity, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found that parents often rank their obese children as "very healthy". Researchers said this is worrying, as parents of obese children do not recognize the importance of diet, exercise and reaching a healthy weight.

"Parents have a hard time changing their child's dietary and physical activity behaviors," said lead author Kyung Rhee, MD, and an assistant adjunct professor in the Department of Pediatrics. "Our study tells us what factors may be associated with a parent's motivation to help their child become more healthy."

The latest study involved 202 parents who were enrolled in an obesity clinic in Rhode Island between 2008 and 2009. Researchers surveyed parents' readiness to take actionable steps to correct their children's eating habits and exercise levels. Researchers said the children involved in the study were aged five to 20 years old, and more than two-thirds were female. Researchers noted that 94 percent of children were clinically diagnosed with obesity.

While most of the children were referred to the clinic by a doctor and had metabolic markers of obesity, researchers found that 31.4 percent of parents believed their children had excellent or very good health. The study also revealed that one in three parents didn't perceive their children's weight as a health concern.

The study also found that 61.4 percent of parents reported trying to improve their child's eating habits. However, only 41.1 percent reporting increasing their children's exercise level.

The study also found that taking to a primary care physician about healthy eating strategies significantly improved parental "action stage of change" to improve children's eating habits.

Researchers said the findings held true even after accounting for education, income and ethnicity.

However, parents with children 14 or older are significantly less likely to be successful in helping their children lose weight than those with younger kids.

The findings are published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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