shadow cast by the obesity epidemic has been spreading slow and steady; the
fiery serpent has started to eat away the youth. Obesity and diabetes are now
global pandemics and have forced an increased attention on strategies to
prevent the same. African
American, Latino American, and Native American children in the United States
appear to be the most affected ones. A recent study travelled into the
perceptions of body weight among overweight and obese children and their
Figures suggest that nearly
one out of every six overweight youth has pre-diabetes. Type 2 diabetes
places overweight adolescents at increased risk of developing heart disease and
other diabetes-related complications before the age of 35. Despite the
spreading awareness of the dangerous accompaniments of obesity and diabetes,
parents appear to underestimate their child's weight. Wrong parental
perceptions influence how parents feed their children. Lack of awareness among
parents renders programmes that target children at risk unsuccessful.
survey of 29 parents and 38 children who were enrolled in a diabetes prevention
program was performed. The study population was an ethnically diverse community
consisting of Hispanic / Latinos, African Americans, and Native Americans. All
the children had at least 2 or 3 risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
explored the perception of weight that children had. They were asked if they
were overweight. The level
of agreement with statements like "I worry that my weight is unhealthy" and "I
worry about becoming overweight" was assessed. Similar methods were also used
to assess the parental perceptions of their child's weight.
children were found to be less likely to report that they were overweight than
other children. They appeared to be less concerned about their weight posing a
risk to their health compared to other children.
In another study,
researchers studied the cultural attitudes and perceptions toward body image,
food, and physical activity among 12 overweight African American girls, aged
12-18 years. These girls reported that "a healthy body size was one with
which an individual felt comfortable".
Weight and body size
thus appear to be influenced by culturally-based perceptions. Each girl in the
study held her family and cultural group as reference for body size. These
girls were found to tolerate heavier body weight and perceived less social
pressure to lose weight.
It is a common finding
that parents of overweight children often perceive their child as being at an
appropriate weight. In yet another study, African-American parents
defined overweight in functional terms than by measurement or charts. They
opined that "bigger people are built differently; charts do not always apply."
Children preferred to define overweight in terms of physical appearance.
"Medium sized, not too skinny, not too thick" meant a healthy weight!
Parents are the role
players in preventing childhood obesity. They should realise that excess weight
in childhood is associated with increased risk of adult obesity and diabetes.
Only a parent who is aware of such risks can encourage healthy lifestyle
changes for his or her child.
The study has a number
of limitations that question the credibility of results. The questionnaire used
in the study was not tested for reliability and validity. The validity of
self-reported data is also debatable. Children younger than 10 years of age may
have found it difficult to interpret the questions. The small sample size
places a limit on the generalizability of results.
However, despite all the
limitations, the study is a landmark one since it points to key areas for
further study. Healthy beliefs, knowledge, and skills must spread. Wrong
perceptions of overweight status and diabetes risks can affect the efficacy of
any intervention that aims at a healthy youth.
Reference: Weight perceptions of parents with
children at risk for diabetes; Eva Vivian et al; BMC Research Notes 2012.