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Mel Gravely

Rising number of parents experiencing “Obliviobesity,” or the inability to recognize their child is overweight

tomatoesDr. David Katz, founder of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, recently coined the term “Obliviobesity.” In an article for the Childhood Obesity Journal, of which he is editor, he explains that obliviobesity is the inability for parents to recognize weight problems with their own children.

According to the study Katz cites, “parents tended to recognize children as overweight only when they were above the 99.7th population percentile; the official cut point is set at the 85th percentile.”

While it may have just recently received an easy-to-remember name, obliviobesity is a phenomenon that experts have been aware of for quite some time. An article about childhood obesity posted on the popular website begins: “You may find it hard to believe, but even toddlers and preschoolers can be overweight. And you can’t always rely on yourself as a parent to recognize it.”

Dr. Katz cites a few reasons for the increase in obliviobesity. First is the overall increasing weight of children in general. If many of the children in a child’s age group are overweight, then parents are more likely to view their children as normal in comparison.

Plus, Dr. Katz explains that for centuries, parents had the exact opposite problem, which was making sure their children got enough to eat. I think most of us can remember being part of the “clean plate club” as children.

As a result, parents may struggle with the moral and ethical dilemma of putting their children on a “diet.” What about their self-esteem? What if they lose too much weight? What will other parents think?

For overweight children especially, the emphasis shouldn’t be on losing weight, but on creating a strong support environment that focuses on health. As Head Start professionals, nutrition and physical health have long been key elements in our “whole child philosophy.” However, we should be aware of the effects of “obliviobesity” and the role it may be playing within a family dynamic, ultimately affecting a child’s physical well-being.

I’m interested to know, have you heard of obliviobesity before? How would you plan to support and coach a family experiencing this issue? How are you implementing nutrition and physical activity into your program? Leave your comments below!

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