Parents are pros at keeping close eyes on their children and their activities. You’ve honed your skills by zealously studying their report cards, keeping tabs on the friends they hang out with, and watching their plates at dinner to make sure vegetables go into their mouths and not the dogs’. However, new research suggests there’s one area where parents could keep better a watch on their children: their waistlines.
A recent study published in Child Obesity showed that nearly 97 percent of parents with overweight children think their kids are of healthy weight. A full 80 percent of parents with obese children think the same thing. These findings are shocking. But parents are not entirely to blame for their off-base perceptions. The study found that many parents rely on our children’s peers to determine if they are healthy. When our kids don’t look any bigger than their friends or classmates, we see no cause for alarm. Given the skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity in the U.S., unhealthy weights have become the new normal, giving parents a distorted view of reality.
This method of evaluating our children’s health can be particularly problematic in Orange County. More than 40% of children in some parts of the county, including Anaheim, Santa Ana and Stanton, are overweight. And a third of OC students across the county are overweight or obese as well. We simply can no longer rely on our eyes alone to evaluate our children’s weight. The obesity epidemic has distorted our perception of reality.
I work with plenty of children whose health would be greatly improved by bringing their weight under control. We all want to be positive with our kids and to avoid hurting their feelings. But we also know that kids model behavior after their parents, and do crave structure. I suggest parents take the time to reflect upon their own eating habits and lifestyle, as a first step toward assessing how well they are modeling a healthy lifestyle for their children. Obesity that starts in childhood often persists into adulthood, and can cause a range of long-term health issues like diabetes and hypertension. The first step to helping our children achieve healthy weights is awareness.
Fostering awareness begins with honest open communication with your child’s doctor. Their doctor can tell you what weight range is healthy for your child taking into consideration their age and height. The doctor will also have a holistic view of your child’s health, and can balance weight against other health concerns like blood pressure or family health history. Body Mass Index, a tool for determining whether your child is at a healthy weight, is another simple indicator of whether your child is overweight. While your doctor can help you determine your child’s BMI, you can also take advantage of user-friendly online tools to figure out that information. Perhaps the best wait to track your child’s weight is by keeping an eye on their true body composition, which measures lean muscle vs. fat. Scales like the FitBit Aria can easily help measure true body composition and other important metrics.
It’s so important that parents take the information from their child’s doctor and implement strategies to keep their kids healthy – and knowing it will keep us healthy too! That may mean cooking more broccoli at dinner, stocking the kitchen with fewer junk food items, or even taking family walks. Diet and exercise are the keys to maintaining a healthy weight. But first we need to make sure we know what healthy weights look like.