New research shows a link between parents' perception and the weight of their kids when they become teenagers.
When parents believe their kids are overweight regardless of whether they are or not, those kids are likely to pack on more pounds.
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A combined team of researchers from Florida State University and the University of Liverpool have attempted to find out the impact of parents’ perception about their children's weight on their body.
Researchers involved more than 3,000 Australian kids between the ages of 4 and 5 and tracked them until they turned 12 or 13 years old. The body mass index of each kid was taken to determine if they are normal or overweight. Then, parents were surveyed to find out whether they perceived their kids as overweight or slim.
The weight of the kids was measured once every two years and compared them with their parents’ perception. It turned out that parents’ inability to make correct assumptions about their kid’s weight can backfire and can put their kids at a risk of gaining more weight as they grow up.
Researchers found that the children who were overweight and who had parents who thought them as overweight, gained more weight as they become teenagers. Children who were overweight but their parents perceived them as normal weight or underweight, had less changes of gaining weight as they grow up. Even the children who were normal or underweight were likely to put on weight in later years if their parents mistakenly think they are overweight. The latest research is challenging the popular belief that kids may slim down when their parents think they are too heavy.
“Parental perceptions may be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.” study co-author Angelina Sutin Florida State University College of Medicine in Tallahassee said.
“In this case, misperception may be protective.”
Out of those 3000 children in the study, 703 were overweight, but only 131 were correctly perceived as overweight by their parents. The remaining 563 were thought normal while 9 were seen as underweight.
The study shows a link between parents’ perception and weight gain in kids but it is unable to provide answer about why parents think their kids are obese/overweight, normal or underweight and how exactly their perception affects the weight of their kids.
“One perception may be that when parents perceive their children as overweight, they may be less likely to monitor their children’s food intake and physical activity,” said Sutin. "In adulthood, individuals who feel stigmatized because of their weight tend to overeat and avoid physical activity. Similar mechanisms may also operate in childhood. And even if parents try to limit their children’s food intake, children may rebel and subsequently eat more.”
Since parental perceptions are connected with the future weight gain of their children, parents need to be very careful in handling this issue and should not mess things up.
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“As parents we should foster a pro-health family environment rather than be over-preoccupied by weight watching.” Dr. Jian Zhang, professor of epidemiology at Georgia Southern University, who was not involved in the research, told CNN.