Parenting

Think Your Toddler's Not Fat? Think Again!

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Parents are lightweights when it comes to knowing how heavy their kids are. In fact, some 71% of moms and dads of obese and overweight toddlers underestimate their child’s weight and think it’s a healthy figure, according to a study reported by LiveScience on MSNBC.com.

Parents who had never had a discussion with the pediatrician about their child’s weight were even more likely to underestimate the figure. And fewer than 8% of parents said their doctors had warned them that their child weighed too much or was gaining weight too quickly.

"Pediatricians have to really embrace this idea that talking to families about toddlers’ weight is important," study researcher and University of South Florida Assistant Pediatrics Prof. Dr. Raquel Hernandez told LiveScience. She noted that although it can be hard for a doctor to raise the subject of weight, "It does pay off, because families who have the provider talk about it are much less likely to misperceive their child, and therefore much more likely to make healthy behavioral changes."

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For the research, Hernandez and her team interviewed 150 parents whose kids were between 2 and 5. Parents were asked if they thought their children were the right weight, underweight or overweight, and were shown sketches of kids with various body sizes. The parents were asked to circle the sketch that most closely matched their own child’s girth.

While about one-third of the preschoolers in Hernandez’s study were either overweight or obese, some 83% of the parents said their kids were "about the right weight." Fifty-five percent of parents of obese children said their child was "about the right weight."

Being overweight, even for a toddler, is a health hazard, according to Hernandez, and toddlerhood is when good eating habits should be instilled.

Doctors should begin screening for weight problems at the age of 2, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Body mass index (BMI) is used to determine if a child falls into either the overweight or the obese category. Kids in the 85th to 94th percentiles on BMI charts are considered overweight, and those in the 95th percentile or above are rated obese.

Overall, about 33% of preschoolers in the U.S. are overweight, and between 12% and 25% are obese, said Hernandez, whose study was published in the journal Clinical Pediatrics.