A majority of parents surveyed failed to recognize the health risks for their obese children, or to encourage physical activity for them, according to a new study by the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Parents of mostly obese youngsters were referred to an obesity clinic at the Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, R.I., in 2008 and 2009. Of the 202 surveyed:

  • 31.4 percent perceived their offspring’s health as excellent or very good
  • 28 percent did not see their son or daughter’s weight as a health concern.

The respondents also showed a greater interest in helping their child eat a healthy diet than encouraging the pediatrician-recommended hour of daily physical activity, according to the study, which was published online in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

More than 61 percent of the parents wanted to help their children eat healthier, by cutting back on junk food and increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables; 41 percent said they tried to get them to play sports, dance or even take walks.

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

The research also found that parents who had talked with their primary care physician about healthy eating strategies were more likely to take action to change their child’s diet. By contrast, parents who viewed their own battle with weight as a health concern were less likely to be addressing their child’s eating habits.

The researchers, who included co-authors Rebecca McEachern and Elissa Jelalian of Brown University in Rhode Island, said education, income and race or ethnicity had no statistically significant bearing on a parent’s likelihood of making dietary changes for their child.

However, they also discovered that parents who make less than $40,000 a year were less involved than others in making sure their children are engaged in physical activity.

The patients at the clinic in Providence ranged in age from 5 to 20 years old, with an average age of 13.8 years. More than two-thirds were female, and 94 percent were clinically classified as obese.

Funding for the study came, in part, from a Hasbro Children’s Hospital research award and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

– City News Service

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