Moms see overweight differently in sons vs. daughters

May 7, 2003 in Nutrition Topics in the News

Moms see overweight differently in sons vs. daughters

One in three mothers is likely to say that their overweight child is "about the right weight," a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found. However, daughters are less likely than sons to be seen as slim by Mom, according to the recent study.

In response to the ever-increasing rates of obesity in children, public health experts are interested in how parents perceive weight status among children overweight in kids starts at home. In an effort to understand a mother's perceptions about her child's weight status, the team of researchers calculated the body mass index (BMI) of 5,500 children and asked mothers if they thought their child was underweight, "about the right weight" or overweight.

BMI is a measure of weight in relation to height and is used to gauge obesity. While 67% of mothers correctly identified their overweight child as being overweight, 32% of mothers classified their overweight child as "about the right weight."

Among children who were not overweight, but heavy enough to be considered at risk for overweight, the researchers found that 14% of mom's reported that their sons were overweight, whereas 29% of mothers reported that their daughters were overweight.

The odds that a mother misclassified her at-risk child as "overweight" increased for daughters, older children and for children whose mother had a lower BMI. Just why some mothers don't recognize obesity in their children is unclear based on the current report. However, the scientists speculate that some mothers may genuinely not recognize that their heavy child is overweight, while other mothers are reluctant to admit that her child is fat or may not understand what "overweight" means.

The study found that mothers were nearly three times as likely to classify at-risk daughters as 'overweight' as compared with at-risk sons. While this behavior may lead to better choices of food in the households of daughters, or an increased likelihood of mother's urging daughters to maintain a more healthful weight, sons are clearly held to a different standard, suggesting that sons may get less guidance about eating habits.

Successful campaigns to decrease childhood obesity are not likely to work if parents are not behind the efforts, the authors note. As such, they suggest that pediatricians need to determine whether mothers have an accurate perception about the weight status of their child.

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