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Overweight kids don't know they're overweight

"As our country gets heavier, children don’t necessarily see it as abnormal," said Dr. Daniel Neides.
By Brooks Hays   |   July 23, 2014 at 12:16 PM   |   Comments

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HYATTSVILLE, Md., July 23 (UPI) -- Nearly a third of American children and adolescents aged 8 to 15 years misperceive their weight, according to a new CDC study. The majority of that 30 percent chunk are obese and overweight children who don't see their weight as an issue.

The study, conducted and published by researchers at CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, found that 76 percent of overweight boys and girls believe they are "about the right weight," while about 42 percent of obese kids consider themselves about right.

Although new evidence suggests obesity rates among kids has leveled off in recent years, the problem is still prevalent and the health risks more and more apparent.

"I am seeing people younger and younger coming into my office with osteoarthritis from weight," explained Dr. Daniel Neides, director of medicine at the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. "We weren't learning about kids with these problems when I was in medical school."

The CDC study found minority children and those from poorer backgrounds -- demographic groups with higher rates of adult obesity -- were more likely to misjudge their weight. The evidence suggests kids with obese parents may be more likely to misperceive their own weight issues.

"As our country gets heavier, children don't necessarily see it as abnormal," Neides, who was not involved with the CDC study, told TIME.

Neda Sarafrazi, a nutritional epidemiologist with NCHS and the report's lead author, told NPR that a child's proper perception of his or her weight is important for inspiring behavioral changes -- like eating healthier and getting more exercise. "Children who don't have a correct perception of their weight don't take steps to lose weight," she said.

But Marlene Schwartz, a psychologist and director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University, warns against the dangers of labeling. "Shame is a terrible motivator," she said. Schwartz thinks education and encouragement are more effective at inspiring healthy change than ensuring kids' weight issues are properly categorized and labeled.

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