A collaborative study including Dr. Andrew Hansen, assistant professor of community health behavior and education, Dr. Yelena Tarasenko, assistant professor of health policy and management and epidemiology, and Dr. Jian Zhang, associate professor of epidemiology at the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health Georgia Southern University, examines the Generational Shift in Parental Perceptions of Overweight Among School-Aged Children.
Parental perceptions of child’s weight status may influence family readiness to foster healthy behaviors. Research demonstrates that parents can have incorrect perceptions of their child’s weight status. “Childhood is a crucial time to start lifelong healthy behaviors. If caregivers do not perceive the effects of unhealthy behaviors and engage in healthy eating and physical activity as a family, children will be on a path to overweight and related health issues like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases sooner.” This new study demonstrates that parental perceptions about children’s weight have shifted over a 10 year period and that more parents incorrectly perceive their child to be at a healthy weight. As obesity rates have increased it appears that what is perceived as about the right weight has also increased. Social comparison theory explains this phenomenon noting that individuals compare themselves to others instead of a standardized scale like the CDC growth charts used by public health professionals and doctors.
Data collected in the NHANES 1988–1994 (n = 2871) and 2005–2010 (n = 3202) was used for the analysis. Parents, mainly mothers, were asked whether they considered their child, ages 6 to 11 years, to be overweight, underweight, or just about the right weight. Parent perceptions and child weight status for both time periods were compared to determine if misperceptions existed. The study concluded that overweight/obese children were less likely to be perceived as overweight during 2005-2010 when compared with peers of similar weight but surveyed 10+ years earlier. The declining tendency among parents to perceive overweight children appropriately may indicate a generational shift in social norms related to body weight.