No harm seen in telling parent child is overweight

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Most parents find it acceptable to be told about their child’s weight status, and the feedback has “minimal” adverse effects for most families, researchers from the UK report.

In 2005, the UK launched its National Child Measurement Program (NCMP), which gives parents information on a child’s weight only if they ask for it, Dr. Jane Wardle and colleagues explain in the journal Pediatrics. The National Health Service is currently considering changing policy so that all parents are informed of their child’s weight unless they opt out.

Concerns have been raised that telling parents a child is overweight may have adverse consequences, the researchers from University College London add.

To investigate, they surveyed children and parents six weeks before and four weeks after they were measured at school. The children were in year 3 (6- to 7-year-olds) and year 6 (10- to 11-year-olds). About half of the parents invited to participate in the study agreed to do so.

Among the 358 children included in the study, 83 percent were at a healthy weight, 13 percent were overweight, and 4 percent were “very overweight.”

Before the measurements, only 39 percent of parents with overweight kids recognized that their child was overweight, while 61 percent said the child’s weight was “about right.”

After the measurements, 49 percent of parents of overweight children said they had made dietary changes and 48 percent reported changes in physical activity, compared to 12 percent and 10 percent of parents of healthy weight children, respectively.

After measurement, normal-weight kids showed increased body esteem, while body esteem for the overweight children did not change.

Ninety-six percent of all children said the process of being weighed and measured was enjoyable or “OK,” while 3 percent of healthy weight kids and 7 percent of overweight children said they didn’t like or even hated the experience. Ninety-four percent said they would agree to being measured again the following year, but 5 percent of normal weight kids and 10 percent of overweight kids said they would not. Most of the children who objected to being measured were in the older age group.

The researchers found that food restriction by parents increased slightly for overweight girls, but “there was little evidence of parents becoming overly vigilant about their child’s eating after weight feedback.” Being identified as overweight also didn’t appear to lead to more teasing by a child’s peers.

Seven of the parents said either they or their children were upset by receiving feedback on the child’s weight.

“Crucial steps for the future will be to identify the best format for providing feedback, examine the training needs of staff carrying out measurements, and ensure that services are in place to meet the needs of families who would like advice and support in making lifestyle changes,” the researchers conclude.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, September 2008.