This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on July 30, 2014.
Despite the nation’s well-publicized childhood obesity problem, new research reveals that nearly one-third of parents are surprised when doctors tell them their child’s weight is putting his or her health at risk.
Researchers at UC San Diego surveyed more than 200 parents whose primary care doctors referred their kids to an obesity clinic. Among the findings: Many parents were unconcerned about their children’s weight and perceived them to be in very good health before doctors pointed out the problem. Then, more parents were interested in improving kids’ diets than their levels of physical activity.
The survey results don’t surprise Dr. June Tester, co-director of Healthy Hearts, the obesity clinic at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland. The clinic sees about 300 new patients each year, and Tester said many parents are surprised to get the referrals. That’s because childhood obesity is now so common that overweight kids don’t stand out at school, she said.
Tester, who was not involved in the study, pointed out that increasing a child’s amount of exercise can feel more daunting than increasing the healthy food he or she eats.
“Parents think of exercise as big and overwhelming,” she said, citing barriers such as the cost of joining a sports league or a gym, the necessary time commitment and transportation needs. In contrast, kids already eat multiple meals and snacks each day, so it’s simpler for parents to add healthy fare into the existing routine.
The UCSD researchers found parents of young children had an easier time helping kids lose weight than parents of teenagers. And parents who struggled with their own weight also had trouble supporting kids’ weight loss. The study was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Here are the numbers:
The percentage of parents whose children were referred to an obesity clinic who perceived their child’s health as “excellent” or “very good” at the time of enrollment. Twenty-eight percent said they did not see their child’s weight as a health concern.
The percentage of parents in the survey who reported taking steps to improve their child’s diet, offering more fruits and vegetables and less junk food.
The percentage of parents who said they were working on increasing their child’s physical activity using sports, dancing, walking or something else.
Parents of youths that age or older had much less success helping their kids tackle their weight problems compared with parents of younger children.