Obesity: Parent denial, school lunch, advertising all part of the problem

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Childhood obesity

Knowing risks of obesity and dealing with it early  can improve kids’ health. (Shutterstock)

The obesity epidemic in the United States continues to grow, and while processed foods and a lack of activity are significant contributing factors, parental perception may also prove to be a hurdle when it comes to preventing childhood obesity.

According to a survey conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Harvard School of Public Health and NPR, only 15 percent of parents feel their child is overweight or obese, despite the fact national statistics indicate as many as 32 percent of the nation’s children are indeed overweight.

“We know that nearly one in three kids in America is overweight or obese, and that’s a national emergency,” Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said in a foundation news release, reported by HealthDay News.

Lavizzo-Mourey says better nutrition and more physical activity are needed to turn the obesity epidemic around, and parents have a unique role to play.

“Knowing the risks of obesity and dealing with the issue proactively can improve kids’ health now and prevent serious problems down the road,” Lavizzo-Mourey said.

While obesity is an issue not specific to race or ethnicity, some groups, such as Hispanics, have higher numbers when compared to non-Hispanic whites.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicate Hispanic children have the highest rates of obesity in the country compared to non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks, and according to the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Hispanic children are 1.2 times as likely to be obese compared to non-Hispanic white children.

The higher obesity rates among Hispanic children are due to a unique combination of factors, including stress, cultural beliefs about nutrition, lack of access to low-quality foods and in some cases, poverty—not just parental perception of obesity.

Why are parents’ perceptions on obesity skewed?

Childhood obesity

Only 46 percent of children live where there are no distractions during family meal time. (Shutterstock)

“…There is a disconnect between parents’ assessments of the risk of future weight gain and national adult obesity rates,” state study authors in the survey report.  “As mentioned… for 20 percent of children, a parent is concerned they will be overweight as an adult, but it is estimated that 69 percent of adults are overweight, including 36 percent who are obese and an additional 6 percent who have ‘extreme obesity.'”

Parental denial, defined as an “unconscious defense mechanism characterized by refusal to acknowledge painful realities, thoughts, or feelings,” is not uncommon, and is not associated only with obesity.

Intervene, at DrugFree.org, explains parental denial is also common when it comes to adolescents and substance abuse.

Parents want to believe the best about their children and are often more motivated by doing what makes children happy than by doing what is best for them in the long run.

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