(NaturalNews) Most U.S. parents can't tell when their children are overweight or obese, according to a nationally representative survey conducted by researchers from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).
The poll was designed to explore parents' perceptions and behaviors surrounding obesity and obesity prevention in their children. It found that while 32 percent of all U.S. children are now classified as overweight or obese, only 15 percent of parents surveyed said their children were "a little" or "very" overweight.
"People often have a hard time making the connection between national problems and their own families," researcher Gillian Steel Fisher said. "Tackling these blind spots can be a difficult, even if necessary, element of public education."
Researchers polled a nationally representative sample of parents and other caregivers of children aged two to 17. They found that in addition to having trouble telling whether their children were overweight, parents (a term the researchers used to encompass all caregivers) also underestimated children's risk of lifelong weight problems. Thus, while 69 percent of all adults are overweight (including 36 percent who are obese and six percent who are extremely obese), only 20 percent of parents said they were concerned that their child might become an overweight adult.
Parents' relative lack of concern might account in part for the prevalence of unhealthy, obesity-promoting behaviors at home. For example, although studies have shown that family meals free of distractions such as television dramatically lower obesity rates, only 46 percent of families followed this recommendation. 24 percent of families ate together while watching television or while someone used a laptop, cell phone or iPod, while another 30 percent did not eat together at all.
Parents face serious challenges
The survey also revealed the challenges that parents face in trying to keep their children at healthy weights. For example, while nearly all parents said they thought it was important for children to eat and exercise well, 36 percent said they had trouble getting their children to exercise enough and 44 percent said they had trouble getting them to eat well.
Consistent with these replies, 60 percent of parents reported that their children ate unhealthy or fattening food after school (between 3 p.m. and bedtime).
Large numbers of parents reported similar challenges in getting their children to eat well and exercise enough. Some of the most common food-related problems included the prevalence of unhealthy foods in advertising and their presence at schools, and the lack of places for children to spend time with friends without being exposed to such food. Commonly reported obstacles to getting kids to exercise were high costs of exercise equipment, gym memberships and sports team fees, plus a lack of sidewalks near home that make walking difficult.
"We know that nearly one in three kids in America is overweight or obese, and that's a national emergency," said RWJF CEO and President Risa Lavizzo-Mourey.
"Better nutrition and more physical activity can help turn this epidemic around, and parents have a unique role to play."