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Parents are not being informed that their children are overweight

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
Obese Child

According to a new study by researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC; Chapel Hill, NC), most parents are not being informed by a healthcare provider that their children are overweight. The study was published online on December 5, 2011, by the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. An analysis of national survey data found that less than 25% of parents of overweight children recall ever being told by a doctor or other health care provider that their children were overweight.

Lead author Eliana M. Perrin, MD, MPH noted that although that percentage has increased over the last decade, more improvement is needed. Dr. Perrin, who is an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine and a pediatrician at North Carolina Children’s Hospital, said, “Parents might be more motivated to follow healthy eating and activity advice if they knew their children were overweight, but very few parents of overweight children say they have ever heard that from their doctor,” Perrin said. She added, “As healthcare providers, it's our job to screen for overweight and obesity and communicate those screening results in sensitive ways, and we are clearly either not doing it or not doing it in a way that families can hear or remember. While we've done better in recent years, clearly there's more work to be done.”

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Dr. Perrin and UNC-Chapel Hill study co-authors Asheley Cockrell Skinner, PhD, and Michael J. Steiner, MD, conducted a secondary statistical analysis of data collected from 4,985 children ages 2 to 15 years who had a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 85th percentile based on measured height and weight. These data were collected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 1999 to 2008.

During that period, only 22% of parents reported that a physician or other healthcare professional told them their child was overweight. However, this percentage increased from 19.4% in 1999 to 23.4% in 2004, and then to 29.1% in 2007-2008. Even among parents of very obese children, only 58% recalled a doctor informing that their child was overweight or obese.

A further study has been proposed. For that study, Dr. Perrin said, “We need to figure out two things: How much does communication of weight status influence parents’ behaviors? And, if hearing that their children are overweight is as big a wakeup call to changing lifestyle as we know from some other small studies, we need to figure out where this communication is breaking down so we can do better in the future. Our research group is working on both those issues.”