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To investigate parental recognition of childhood overweight and explore parents’ understanding of and attitudes to adiposity in childhood.
Questionnaires and focus groups within a longitudinal birth cohort study.
539 parents of children in the Gateshead Millennium Study, of which 27 attended 6 focus discussion groups.
Main Outcome Measures
Parental perception of their child’s weight status according to actual weight status as defined by International Obesity Taskforce (IOTF) cut-offs. Outcomes from focus groups included parental awareness of childhood overweight nationally, methods used by parents to identify overweight children and grounds for not engaging with the issue.
There was poor agreement between perceived child weight status and actual weight status (k = 0.297). More than two-thirds (68.8%) of parents of overweight or obese children identified their child as being of “normal” weight. Of those children correctly identified as being “overweight”, 66.7% were in fact obese according to IOTF criteria. Although during focus groups parents demonstrated an awareness of childhood overweight being a problem nationally, they underestimated its prevalence amongst the population. Parents tended to identify childhood overweight by using visual assessments and by comparing children within a class, school or area where only extreme cases were again categorised as “overweight”. Consequently, the apparent lack of relevance of the problem to their children’s school or own community, together with scepticism towards both media messages and clinical guidelines used to identify childhood overweight, commonly emerged as grounds for failing to recognise the issue. Parents also stated that diagnoses should be treated with caution as a child’s body continually changes during the maturation process and phases of “chubbiness” may eventually be overcome during “growth spurts”.
Parental recognition of both their child’s overweight status and the scale of the problem nationally were poor. Parents neither use nor trust clinical measures and rely on extreme cases to identify unhealthy weight status in children. There is an urgent need to find methods to improve parental recognition of childhood overweight and obesity if parents are to play a full role in preventing this increasing public health problem.
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