One of the reasons rates of childhood obesity are so high in the United States might be because children and parents don't recognize the kids are overweight.
The Centers for Disease Control define overweight as having a Body Mass Index, which is a number based on an individual's height and weight, between the 85th and 95th percentile for the individual's age and sex, and obesity as having a BMI at the 95th percentile or above. As of 2012, more than a third of all children in the U.S. were obese or overweight.
However, 81 percent of overweight boys and 71 percent of overweight girls believe they are at the right weight. The same is true for 48 percent of obese boys and 36 percent of obese girls, according to a recent report from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.
The Daily Beast commented on the kids' misconceptions, saying, "The most straightforward explanation for the disconnect ... is the prevalence of childhood obesity in this country. When many of your peers look roughly the same way you do, it’s reasonable to conclude that you’re all healthy."
Another problem is that parents don't recognize that their children are unhealthy. In a survey by the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 200 parents of children who had been admitted to a clinic for obesity and weight problems were asked to evaluate the health of their children. Thirty-one percent said their child's health was “excellent” or “very good.” Another 28 percent didn't see a problem with their child's weight, according to the Washington Post.
"Again, these are parents whose pediatricians had already told them that they had an obese child — and had agreed to admit that child to a program for obesity treatment," the article continued.
Kyung Rhee, the lead author on the parent survey, told The Atlantic that a culture "normalization of obesity" was partially to blame.
“There are so many kids who are overweight—and so many adults who are overweight—that a lot of parents just don’t recognize it as a problem," she said.
According to the CDC, childhood obesity can lead to future health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.
But how does society help children who struggle with weight problems without creating feelings of self-hatred or inferiority?
"Shame is a terrible motivator," Marlene Schwartz, a psychologist and director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University, told NPR. "It's better to encourage them to get healthier by cutting out snacking in front of the television or cutting out sugary drinks than to tell them they need to lose 20 pounds to be considered 'just right.'"
An article in Deseret News also warns about the danger of making kids feel bad about their weight. A focus on weight and dieting can lead to eating disorders and self-esteem problems. Instead, says Tobie Baumann, a mother and fitness consultant from Cartersville, Georgia, focus on health, not weight.
"Guess what," Baumann tells her own kids, "you will have so much more energy and be even smarter and think faster as your body grows stronger with good food and exercise."
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