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Jul 21, 2014 07:05 PM EDT

Parents Do Not Recognize The Consequences of Childhood Obesity

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Parents of obese children do not recognize the potentially serious health consequences of childhood weight gain, according to a recent study.

Researchers from the University of California - San Diego School of Medicine found that parents of obese children rank their obese children as "very healthy." They also found that these guardians also do not recognize the importance of daily physical activity in helping their child reach a healthy weight.

"Parents have a hard time changing their child's dietary and physical activity behaviors," Kyung Rhee, lead author of the study and an assistant adjunct professor in the Department of Pediatrics, said in a statement. "Our study tells us what factors may be associated with a parent's motivation to help their child become more healthy."

For the study, researchers collected data from more than 200 parents whose children were enrolled in an obesity clinic at the Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, R.I. in 2008 and 2009. The survey probed parents' readiness to take actionable steps to improve their child's eating habits and physical activity levels. The children ranged in age from 5 to 20 years old, with an average age of 13.8 years. More than two-thirds were female, and almost all (94 percent) were clinically classified as obese.

Although most of the children had been referred to the obesity clinic by a primary care provider and had metabolic markers of obesity, 31.4 percent of parents perceived their child's health as excellent or very good and 28 percent did not perceive their child's weight as a health concern.

Parents indicated a greater interest in helping their child eat a healthy diet than encouraging the pediatrician-recommended hour of daily physical activity.

The researchers said education, income and race/ethnicity had no statistically significant bearing on a parent's likelihood of making dietary changes for their child.

In terms of physical activity, researchers do not know why parents appear to underemphasize its role in good health, but the finding is consistent with other recent studies that suggest America's youth are largely out-of-shape and sedentary, replacing playtime with "screen time."

The findings were recently published online in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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