A recently published study by Duncan, et al examined the prevalence of parental misconceptions in the US related to preschool children’s weight. Data from the above mentioned survey were gathered; with the earlier survey conducted from 1988 to1994 (n=3839) and the recent one from 2007 to 2012 (n=3153). Parents of children ages 2-5 years were asked whether they classified their child as overweight, underweight or just about the right weight. Probability ratio (PR) was estimated between the two reports for parents who considered their overweight child as overweight.
Results of the study showed a high percentage of parents (96.6% and 94.9% for the early and recent survey, respectively) inappropriately perceiving their overweight child as just about the right weight. For those with an obese child, 78.4% of parents interviewed in the recent survey regard their child as just about the right weight. The probability of an overweight or obese child being classified as overweight was 0.18 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.14-0.22) in the former survey and 0.14 (95% CI = 0.11-0.17) in the more recent survey. There was a 30% probability of the parents to appropriately perceive a child (PR=0.70 [0.63, 0.78]), after adjustment for sociodemographics and body mass index z-scores.
What was particularly alarming, pointed out by the researchers, is that the children in the second study group were significantly more overweight than the children in the first study group, yet the parents’ perception of their children remained relatively unchanged. Few parents were able to understand the growth charts and implications the data presented. On the other hand, research examining social comparison theory suggests that individuals evaluate themselves in relation to others, rather than against an absolute scale.
Parents have a diminished tendency to appropriately perceive overweight children. Strategies to promote discussions between clinicians and parents on the suitable weight for their children are thus needed for the prevention of childhood obesity.