Survey finds parents struggle to identify obesity

Monday 8th July 2019

A survey of more than 5,000 Scottish 12-year olds and their parents is suggesting many mums and dads don't know whether their child is overweight.

More than eight in ten parents whose child is overweight believe their son or daughter is a normal weight, dropping to four in ten for parents of children who are obese, according to the Growing up in Scotland research project. Overall, more than one in three 12-year olds are overweight and one in five are obese.

Professor Steve Turner of the Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health (RCPCH) says the results should encourage parents and carers to ask “is my child too heavy?”.

Changing an environment of unhealthy food and drink “everywhere you turn” is the first step to tackling obesity among children, he says, including a crackdown on unhealthy food advertising on TV.

“It is obviously bad news for everyone that over a third of Scottish children are overweight or obese,” Professor Turner warns.

“Without concerted action, the children are at risk of developing serious conditions such as type two diabetes, joint and mental health problems and very serious liver disease – these are not only life-changing complications, but if left unmanaged, they can be life-limiting.”

The survey results published earlier this week form part of a study that has been tracking the young people since they were born in 2005.

Researchers interviewed parents and their children and recorded BMIs so they compare perception and reality.

Although 62% of the youngsters surveyed were found to have a healthy weight, 80% of parents said their child was a normal weight.

Children who considered themselves to be the correct weight also reported high average life satisfaction scores, while those who thought they were much too thin or much too fat had the lowest.

Professor Turner said: “We already know that not all parents can identify overweight or obesity in their child, so this latest survey should encourage parents and carers to ask the question “is my child too heavy?”. 

“The challenge now is to then change the lifestyle of children (and their families) to reverse the increasing trend of obesity. We know that obesity rates are falling in more affluent communities but they are rising in poorer communities, so we know that it is possible to reduce obesity levels.

“First of all, we must change the environment. Unhealthy food and drink is everywhere you turn. It is advertised at bus stops, on public transport and there are fast food shops near many local schools and colleges.”

RCPCH welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to improving nutritional standards in school meals is calling on ministers to go “much further.”

Professor Turner says: “We must protect children outside the school gates with a ban on advertising of food and drink high in salt, sugar or fat before 9pm on TV and online. We also need to make every contact count, making sure health professionals sensitively discusses nutrition and the importance of a healthy lifestyle at every opportunity.”