With our country facing an alarmingly increasing rate of obesity, it can sometimes be difficult to gauge what exactly constitutes a “normal” weight. New studies show that overweight and obese people consistently underestimate their weight and also view their children’s bulk as normal, as described in a recent Health Day article, written by Ellin Holohan.
The study of women and children was conducted at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City and found that skewed body image was far more prevalent among the heaviest participants compared with people of normal weight. This just goes to show that society may be altering people’s perceptions of the healthy weight.
“The implications of this is the overwhelming impact of obesity on children who are growing up in communities where obesity and overweight is the norm rather than the exception,” said lead author Dr. Nicole Dumas, a medical resident at Columbia. “It just sort of skews their image of what they see as being a normal or healthy weight.”
The study included 111 urban moms, with an average age of 39, as well as 111 of their children, who were asked to choose a silhouette that best represented their own body size. About 66 percent of the mothers were overweight or obese, as were 39 percent of their children, ranging in age from seven to 13.
Of the obese participants, only 18 percent chose silhouettes that were obese, while 76 percent chose overweight forms. The remainder selected normal shapes to represent their body size. Of the overweight women, just under 58 percent selected an overweight shape, while nearly 43 percent selected a normal-size silhouette.
Alice H. Lichtenstein, professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University in Boston notes that our society as a whole is becoming more overweight, therefore, living in a culture where obesity is common “is going to affect our perception of ourselves and our children.”
The study, which will be presented at the American Heart Association’s scientific sessions in Atlanta found that:
- 82 percent of obese mothers and 43 percent of overweight mothers underestimated their weight
- 86 percent of overweight or obese children underestimated their weight, while only 15 percent of normal-sized kids did
- 48 percent of mothers of obese or overweight children thought their children’s weight was normal
- 13 percent of normal-weight mothers underestimated their weight
Nearly 80 percent of the participants were Hispanic; about 10 percent were black; 6 percent were white; and 2 percent were Asian, with the remainder identifying themselves as “other.”
About 66 percent of the moms were obese or overweight, which is reflective of the general U.S. population according to Dumas. However, the study children’s rate of overweight or obesity, at 39 percent, was higher than for American children in general, at 33 percent.
This study shows that health-care providers need to educate patients about the dangers of excess body weight, says Lichtenstein. Schools should teach home economics “with a 21st century approach,” she said, so children learn how “to choose and provide foods that are going to result in a healthy body weight.”
Although this study only examined people from the United States, obesity is a global issue around the world, said Dr. Robert Eckel, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and former American Heart Association president.
“An obese child is going to become an obese adult,” said Eckel. “Individuals, schools, health-care providers, churches and the government all have a role” to play in addressing this public health issue, he said.
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