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In Mom's Eyes, Overweight Toddler May Not Be

MONDAY, May 7 (HealthDay News) -- A new study suggests that many mothers of overweight toddlers misjudge their child's weight and that could lead to overfeeding, researchers say.

"Mothers of overweight toddlers were more than 88 percent less likely [than the mothers of normal-weight children] to accurately perceive their child's body size," wrote a team led by Erin Hager of the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Part of the problem, the researchers say, is that a plump toddler "is often regarded as a sign of successful parenting, especially during the early years when parents are responsible for their child's health, nutrition and activity opportunities."

The study appears in the May issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine and included 281 mother-toddler pairs. The children averaged just under 2 years of age and the mothers ranged in age from 18 to 46 years. About 72 percent of the mothers were overweight/obese.

Overall, nearly 70 percent of the mothers were inaccurate in assessing their toddler's body size and nearly 72 percent said they were "satisfied" with their toddler's body size. According to the authors, moms of healthy-weight or overweight toddlers were more apt to say they were satisfied with their child's size, compared to mothers of underweight toddlers.

"In conclusion, the majority of mothers were satisfied with their toddler's body size, yet were inaccurate in their perception of their child's actual body size," the researchers wrote. They believe more study is needed to see if and how these misperceptions of children's weight status affect the parents' behaviors when it comes to feeding or encouraging exercise.

One expert called the study "instructive." Writing in an accompanying editorial, Dr. Eliana M. Perrin, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said research suggests that "parents with accurate perceptions of weight have greater readiness to make weight-related behavioral changes and are more effective making them."

"We likely need a public health campaign that allows us to visualize the range of healthy toddlers' and older children's weight. I am imagining posters showing photographs of children of all ages between the 5th and 85th percentiles [for weight] saying, 'I'm at a healthy weight!' This type of campaign may help reset our nationally normed pictures of health, helping parents appreciate healthy undulations of weight," Perrin suggested.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about your child's weight.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, news release, May 7, 2012

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