How to Know If Your Child Is Overweight

Parent estimates of child weight tend to be lower than actual weights

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) The first step to recognizing a potential health risk is identifying it. This is particularly important when it comes to individuals recognizing whether they or loved ones are a healthy weight.

A recent study found that half of all parents actually tend to underestimate their child's weight when the child is overweight or obese.

Parents of children with a healthy weight may also underestimate their children's weight, but far fewer of them make these inaccurate estimates.

Children's pediatricians can help parents recognize when their child might be at risk for becoming overweight or obese.

"Ask your pediatrician if your child's weight is healthy."

The study, led by Alyssa Lundahl, BA, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, looked at how many parents underestimate their children's weights.

If a parent underestimates their child's weight, the parent may be less likely to take note of a child's gaining weight or being at risk for obesity.

The authors searched several research databases for all articles published through January 2013 that dealt with parents' perceptions of their children's weight.

The researchers analyzed two sets of studies separately — those involving children who were overweight or obese and those involving children who had a normal weight.

The first group included 69 articles, involving just under 15,800 overweight or obese children.

When they analyzed all these articles together, the researchers determined that approximately 51 percent of all parents of overweight or obese kids underestimated their children's weight. The extent to which these parents underestimate their children's weight also seemed related to whether they had a boy or a girl.

Then the authors analyzed 52 articles involving just under 64,900 children who had a normal weight. Among the parents of these children, 14 percent underestimated their children's weight.

Other factors that played into whether the parents underestimated their children's weight included their child's sex, the parent's weight, and how the parents estimated weight (by looking or by another method).

The studies for both groups primarily came from the Americas, western Europe and Australia.

The authors suggested several possible reasons that parents may underestimate their overweight or obese children's weight.

"For instance, popular media reports regarding childhood obesity often stereotype overweight children by showing images of severely obese children, a practice that may distort parents’ understanding of what actually qualifies as overweight," the authors wrote.

"It is also possible that parents are simply resistant to labeling or stigmatizing their children or, alternatively, may not be willing to recognize that their child is overweight because doing so would require that they recognize that they, too, may need to implement healthy lifestyle changes," they wrote.

However, the authors added that the underestimates were most likely not intentional.

"Research indicates that parents simply do not consider their child to be overweight if he or she engages in physical activity, is not teased about his or her size, and has no obviously threatening health problems," the authors wrote.

The study was published February 3 in the journal Pediatrics. The research did not receive outside funding, and the authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
February 5, 2014
Last Updated:
February 6, 2014