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Obesity problems aren’t hidden but they might be unseen

Submitted by on Tuesday, 30 June 2009 4 Comments

The eyes and the brain are amazing organs, allowing us to see and interpret the world around us.

Or, in some cases, letting us delude ourselves into believing we’re seeing something different from objective reality.

That’s what German researchers found in a study of 200 mothers that was published in the July edition of Pediatrics.

The women in the study were either overweight, poor or had at least one overweight child, according to Reuters.

When the women were asked to identify silhouettes of overweight children, they were right only 64 percent of the time.

When it came to picking the silhouette that matched their own children’s weight, the accuracy rate fell to 40 percent in part because women with weight problems were less likely to recognize them in their own children.

Researchers suggest that if doctors provide more feedback about children’s weight, mothers might be more willing to get their children into programs to curb the weight problem before it becomes obesity.

Here’s the problem with that proposal: Doctors also are lousy at identifying overweight patients, according to research this winter from Case Western Reserve University.

The children will, of course, have help from their classmates in learning to self-identify quickly after they start school. The cruel taunts can haunt them for decades. Only 38.7 percent of the mothers in the study identified overweight as carrying increased mental health risks for children, by the way.

The new research was not the first study to site parents’ inability to judge their own children’s weight. Doctors at the University of California, San Diego found two years ago that parents were better at assessing other children’s weight status than they were at identifying that of their own offspring.

In light of these two studies, perhaps it’s time to shift away from all-encompassing public service announcements and posters that don’t seem to be delivering the message to people who need to hear it.

What if, instead of scatter gun “fat tax” proposals that focus on media campaigns to counteract commercials, the money instead was laser pin-pointed at parents whose children need help.

In New York, officials estimate that the 1-cent “fat tax” would raised $50 million a year. Surely that’s enough money to create a pilot program to specially train pediatric nurses or aides to work directly with parents.

Based on childhood obesity trends, clearly the PSA approach isn’t having much success. Why not try something different?

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • Leslie K. said:

    I absolutely believe this, Deb. Whenever I catch sight of myself in the mirror or in a window pane I am always shocked. Who is that old fat woman?

  • Debra said:

    I do, too. I’ve always tended to have the opposite reaction – painful awareness of every flaw – but I know enough people who give themselves a generous benefit of the doubt to believe the study results have some validity.

  • Stephanie Martin said:

    There can be some sort of disconnect between the eyes and the brain when it comes to problems with weight.

    For example, I was anorexic in my early teen years. I was 5’5″ and weighed 85 lbs. But when I looked into the mirror, what I saw was a chubby young woman. Seriously. It is part of the disease.

    Could it be that obesity has the same type of phenom? Could it be that obese people do not SEE obesity the same way an objective person does? I suppose I should Google it and do a bit of study on it.

    Could be that parents do not wish to see it (acknowledge) in their children so they cannot see the true state of their child’s health.

    We have, as a society, become so complacent about the state of our health and that would explain our physicians inability to accurately see it themselves.

  • Debra said:

    Stephanie, I had the same problem as a teen. Not quite anorexic but dang close. A size six but I still saw fat thighs.

    Contrast that to my mom who, even though I was 5-2 and wore a size 18 in seventh-grade, to this day denies that I was ever overweight. Yes, I crash dieted from a size 18 to a 6 in four months. I continue to battle to this day the unhealthy habits learned at that age.

    You’re right: It’s a complicated, complicated issue. I don’t think there’s a PSA in the world that can solve it because mass media campaigns fail to get past the “they’re not talking to me” denial.