If parents can't see their kids weight problems, do they exist?

Posted: February 20, 2014

A STUNNING report coming out next month in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, states that as many as half of parents in the U.S. underestimate their children's overweight/obese status, and 14 percent of parents believe that their normal-weight children are underweight.

The study didn't get into why parents thought this way, but I suspect it might be because studies of adults' perception of their own weight have found the same thing.

People just can't see the truth: A whopping third of American children (from babies to adolescents) are either overweight or obese; two-thirds (190 million) of U.S. adults are, too.

Everyone should find this study troubling, because childhood weight issues can lead to substantial health problems. Obese children are vulnerable to many adult diseases, like diabetes, fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, arthritis and poor mobility.

Shouldn't we have learned from the massive, 8,000-infant study conducted in 2011 by the Wayne State University School of Social Work? It revealed that 9-month-old infants whose weight-to-height ratio was above the 95th percentile on standard growth charts were at higher risk for being obese by age 2. The study also noted, not surprisingly, that obesity in early childhood could lead to lifelong obesity and its attendant issues - heart disease, diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure and cancer.

So, when are we going to dig our collective heads out of the abyss of denial and confront our lifestyle and parenting practices, and how they contribute to the problem?

In recent years, the Obama administration has committed million of dollars to prevention and wellness programs aimed at combating obesity. First lady Michelle Obama has made this issue her personal crusade.

That's great. But the bottom line is that parents must step up to take responsibility for feeding their children healthy and nutritious meals and making sure that children exercise daily. Parents also should model that behavior.

Don't we owe it to our children to give them a healthy start?

And here's one way to do it: Make most of your family's meals at home.

Current statistics indicate that Americans eat at least half their meals outside the home. Having worked at my fair share of restaurants, both high- and low-end, I can tell you that it's rare to find both delicious and nutritious meals in a restaurant.

Research also consistently indicates that children who eat regularly with their parents do better across the board in all the areas that matter most. They get better grades, are less likely to be overweight and watch less TV. Participation in family mealtimes also significantly reduces smoking and alcohol use.

Isn't it cool that we parents have the power to significantly improve our children's health, education and overall life, simply by cooking healthy meals at home?

Let's get back to the family dinner tradition. In the process, we can transform the health of our children and the nation.

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