Studies: Children tend to become overweight when parents think they are too fat

Studies: Children tend to become overweight when parents think they are too fat

The parents' assessment influences the actual weight of the children
Most parents try to avoid making their children overweight. Physicians have now found that even the parents' assumption that their children are overweight can be enough to really make the children gain weight. Even the parents' worry about the overweight of the offspring causes their children to gain weight.

Researchers now found that when parents think their children are overweight, it can have serious consequences. Regardless of the real weight of the children, this assumption is sufficient to really make the affected children gain weight. The Florida State University College of Medicine scientists published the results of their study in Pediatrics.

Study examines 3,500 children over a period of several years
Parents' perception seems to be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, says co-author Angelina Sutin from Florida State University College of Medicine. Shouldn't parents normally take action if their children weigh too much? Not necessarily. Children who were overweight lost weight in the current study if the parents thought their children were of normal body weight, Sutin explains. In this case, a misjudgment by the parents can even have a protective effect on the children. The study found a connection between the parents' perception and the weight of their children, but was unable to find a cause-and-effect relationship, the researchers say. The study was inspired by older studies that previously found that adults who felt themselves to be overweight gained more weight than they would under normal circumstances, adds Sutin. The new study now observed more than 3,500 children and their parents. The doctors examined the children regularly every two years, from the age of four to the age of 12 or from the age of five to the age of 13. During the examination, the parents had to answer questions about how they perceived their child's weight. 97 percent of those questioned were mothers, the researchers say.

Examination is based on the body mass index
At the age of four to five years three quarters of the children still had a normal healthy weight. Twenty percent of the children examined were actually overweight or even obese, but the parents of the victims generally believed the weight to be normal, the scientists explain. Over time, it could be determined by the doctors that these overweight children continued to gain weight if the parents perceived them as overweight, explains Sutin. The study found it difficult to quantify how much overweight the children had developed because the children were still growing. The importance of weight gain in childhood varies depending on size, Sutin adds. The investigation was based on the commonly used measurement, the so-called body mass index (BMI). The BMI offers a rough estimate of body fat based on height and weight. The BMI also takes age and gender into account for children, the experts explain. The study was unable to determine how much the BMI increased when parents assumed their children were overweight. The doctors also found no direct connection to the weight of the parents. However, there was no information about how parents perceived their own weight, the experts add.

Why does the assessment have such an impact on children's weight?
One explanation of why parents' adoption can have such consequences could be monitoring food intake and physical activity, Sutin says. When adults feel stigmatized by their weight, they tend to eat a lot and avoid physical activity. The researchers suspect that similar effects could also affect affected children. In addition, some children are rebellious in their attitudes. Such parents' attempts by parents to limit food intake could result in them actually eating more afterwards, Sutin explains.

Children need a healthy diet and physical activity
Perhaps the parental obsession about weight is transferred to their children, which could lead to poorer mental health and cause coping strategies, such as overeating, the experts explain. There is little research into how parents should best address their children about weight problems. More research is needed to find out how parents should best communicate with their children about their weight, the doctors say. According to the researchers, parents should generally educate their children about the importance of healthy eating and physical activity for general health, rather than focusing specifically on weight, explains Sutin. It could be more effective if parents focus on the importance of healthy eating and physical activity for general health and offer their children many opportunities for healthy eating and exercise in daily life, Sutin adds. (as)

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