Mothers Have Misconceptions about Healthy Child Size

As many as 17 percent (12.5million) American children between the ages of 2 and 19 are now considered obese. Endless amounts of money have been placed into researching the epidemic and doctors, researchers, scientists, dieticians and more are working hard to spread the message. Yet, according to a recent study, mothers are still struggling with the way they perceive their child’s weight.

The study, based on the perceptions of poor women in Baltimore, took a look at how women perceived the weight of their offspring. To determine this, researchers recruited 280 women, aged 18 to 46. Seventy-two percent of those women were, themselves, considered to be “obese.” Each mother was shown cartoon drawings of seven diaper-clad toddlers that ranged in size from underweight to obese. Mothers were then instructed to choose which child best represented their child in respect to size.

Oddly, nearly 70 percent of all mothers chose a toddler picture that was actually smaller than their own child, and obese women were most likely to choose an incorrect body size. (Researchers did know the actual height and weight of each child prior to the photo selection.)

“Specifically, mothers of overweight toddlers consistently tended to choose a silhouette that was smaller than their child’s true body size,” Hager stated.

It seems, according to the data, that mothers are still holding onto the idea that a heavy child is a healthy child, despite the fact that all recent information contradicts this perception. Children with “poor” families seem to fare the worst, and the statistics support this with as many as 1 in 7 preschool aged children from lower income families now considered obese.

Erin Hager of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, believes that the misconception may stem from past eras when famines and starvation were common.

“A long time ago, it was O.K. to value a chubby baby when kids were underweight and we had potato famines and what not,” said Hager. “It was a sigh you’re doing well for yourself. But that is not how it is today in the United States.”

The results of the study come as a shock to many, considering the amount of time and effort that has been put into reducing childhood obesity and obesity in general. What’s even more shocking is that somewhere around 20 percent of mothers who had “healthy weight” toddlers were unsatisfied with the weight of their toddlers and actually wanted them bigger.

“That suggests we may have a lot of parents who are trying to fatten up their babies,” said Dr. Eliana Perrin of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, who wrote a commentary on the same study.

Other studies have indicated that children learn their eating habits early, and if mothers are trying to “plump” their kids up as toddlers, it could very well cause serious weight issues for the child as they grow and develop into adults.

“Kids who gain weight as toddlers tend to hold onto weight longer and tend to be overweight and obese in adolescence and adulthood,” said Dr. Stephen Cook, a member of the Executive Committee of the Section on Obesity for the American Academy of Pediatrics and associate professor of peciatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Cook previously performed a similar study on older children.

Obesity, of course, comes with a long laundry list of health complications – everything from diabetes to hypertension and cancer. Unfortunately, until we start seeing the weight of our children for what it is, nothing can be done to help reduce obesity or the health complications that may accompany it.

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About the author


Kate Givans is a wife and a mother of five—four sons (one with autism) and a daughter. She’s an advocate for breastfeeding, women’s rights, against domestic violence, and equality for all. When not writing—be it creating her next romance novel or here on Growing Your Baby—Kate can be found discussing humanitarian issues, animal rights, eco-awareness, food, parenting, and her favorite books and shows on Twitter or Facebook. Laundry is the bane of her existence, but armed with a cup of coffee, she sometimes she gets it done.

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