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As the nation works to address the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, including this year's launch of First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" campaign, there may be one big stumbling block on the road to a solution: parents.
A recent study published in the July-August issue of the journal Academic Pediatrics confirmed past reports that a significant number of parents of overweight children do not know that their kids are overweight. When asked whether or not their children were a healthy weight, more than 40 percent of parents of overweight kids said yes.
"Parents don't recognize weight problems or don't know how to make things better," Dr. Eliana Perris, lead author of the study and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told Science Daily. "Even if they do, there are often barriers to healthier eating or more activity for these families."
Childhood obesity rates have tripled over the last 30 years, and today, nearly one in three kids is obese. The causes are pretty straightforward: a dramatic spike in calorie consumption (on average we consume 31 percent more calories than 40 years ago) combined with an equally dramatic drop in physical activity (kids spend an average of 7.5 hours per day sitting in front of TVs and computers).
The solution, then, seems simple: cut the calories and ramp up the exercise. But while a number of school districts and even some municipalities, such as San Francisco, have attempted to address the problem by taking steps such as outlawing soda and other sugary drinks from public vending machines, it seems that they are likely to have little impact if the people who are primarily responsible for a child's health and well-being -- parents -- don't see a problem.
Yet there is also some promising news in Perris's study. When parents were made aware of their child's weight problem using easy-to-understand materials and given guidelines on how to tackle it, they showed significant improvement in making healthy changes in their child's diet and lifestyle, such as eating out less, switching to lower-fat milk, serving more fruits and vegetables and reducing the amount of time spent in front of a screen, TV or otherwise.
"This is the first time we've seen a changed perspective from parents," Perris told Science Daily. "We hope that parents who know their children are overweight will be empowered to help them achieve healthier lifestyles that can last a lifetime."