Children More Likely to Gain Weight if ‘Perceived as Overweight’

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Wednesday, 01 June 2016

According to a new study, children are more likely to put on weight if their parents think of them as overweight.

All UK children in reception classes and year six are now measured and weighed at school. This research challenges whether or not parents should be told that their child is overweight after this has been done.

However, in a presentation at the European Obesity Summit in Sweden, a team of researchers from Florida and Liverpool revealed that regardless of a 4 or 5 year old child’s weight, if their parents perceive them as too heavy, they will on average put on more weight than other children. This was found to be the case even if the parents were wrong in their assumptions.

The research was conducted by Dr Angela Sutin from the Florida State University College of Medicine and Dr Eric Robinson from the University of Liverpool. Analysing data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, they followed more than 3,500 children from the ages of 4 to 13, along with their parents.

Children whose parents thought they were overweight, rather than a healthy weight for their age, gained more weight over the years than those whose parents perceived their weight as normal.

According to the researchers, the exact cause of this trend is unknown, but it is possible that the stigma attached to obesity could be to blame. Children who feel as though they’re labelled as overweight might be less able to deal with the stigma. The researchers said that feeling negatively judged because of body size is associated with maladaptive coping responses and eating disorders. This can often include overeating, which in turn can lead to weight gain.

The researchers say that further investigation is needed to find the exact cause. They wrote that despite popular belief, parents identifying that their child is obese does not protect against additional weight gain, whether the child is overweight or not.

They said that these new findings allude to initiatives for childhood obesity. For a long time it has been presumed that a parent identifying their child as overweight is important for obesity intervention. Up until now, little formal assessment into whether interventions such as measurements in schools actually protect against weight gain has been carried out.