Mothers failing to see when children are obese: study

Mothers are failing to recognise that their children are overweight or obese, a new study has revealed.

Research conducted by the University of Limerick (UL) found only one in six mothers of obese children classified their child as moderately or very overweight.

The study by a multi-disciplinary research team at UL was published in the international journal Archives of Disease in Childhood. It reported on 7,655 mothers and their nine-year-old children using data from the study, Growing Up in Ireland.

Professor Ailish Hannigan co-author of the study said 75% of overweight mothers and 60% of obese mothers who participated in the research recognised themselves as overweight or obese.

Co-author Helen Purtill said mothers who recognised themselves as being overweight were more likely to identify weight gain in their child. “Overweight or obese mothers with accurate perceptions of their own weight were more likely to correctly classify their overweight or obese child,” said Dr Purtill.

Latest figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate Ireland is on track to become the most obese country in Europe by 2030 unless urgent action is taken. One in four children in Ireland is classified as overweight or obese.

Highlighting the public health significance of the study Kevin Dowd, Centre for Physical Activity and Health Research at UL said if mothers fail to acknowledge their child is overweight or obese it can lead to weight problems down the line.

“If mothers, who are the primary caregivers in the majority of Irish homes, are unable to identify their child as overweight or obese, it is unlikely that they will react or intervene to change this.

“This may result in continued weight gain throughout the remainder of childhood and adolescence into adulthood,” said Dr Dowd.

Professor Clodagh O’Gorman, another of the study’s co-authors, said guidelines should be encouraged.

“Open and honest discussions between health professionals and parents about the child’s weight status should be encouraged together with practical strategies for helping the family maintain a healthy weight,” she said.

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