Why Do We Think Overweight Is Normal?

The Columbia University researchers presented findings at a recent American Heart Association conference that showed the heavier the mothers and children were, the more likely they were to misjudge their weight.
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I read an article the other day that struck me. It talked about a study done at New York's Columbia University Medical Center, which found that our society's perception of what is considered normal weight is changing. I realized that this is one of the biggest issues in the obesity crisis that we are facing, perhaps without even realizing it.

For the study, over 200 mothers and children were recruited at an urban-area children's health clinic and interviewed about their medical histories and social backgrounds. All participants had their height, weight and body mass index measured.

Almost two-thirds of the mothers were recorded as obese or, at the very least, overweight and close to 40 percent of the children (who ranged from ages seven to 13) were also deemed either overweight or obese. Most participants (typically the overweight ones) were surprised by the number scale and had often dramatically underestimated their weight.

The Columbia University researchers presented findings at a recent American Heart Association conference that showed the heavier the mothers and children were, the more likely they were to misjudge their weight.

In fact, 82 percent of the obese women underestimated their weight, compared to just 13 percent of women whose weights were considered normal. In addition, 86 percent of overweight children underestimated their weight, while only 15 percent of the normal-weight children did so.

Even more alarming was that close to half of the mothers who had an overweight child believed their child's weight to be normal. In most cases, overweight children belonged to overweight mothers.

The study uncovered an interesting trend: the more overweight the women, the more overweight their children tended to be. This goes to show that children are led by example and how important it is for parents to strive to live healthy lives so that their children can, in turn, internalize the importance of overall wellness.

Children cannot be expected to make good nutritional choices on their own at such a young age. The children in this study were, on average, seven to 13. During this age range, children tend to be considerably impressionable. If their parents are eating fast food at every meal, why should they be expected to make healthier choices? While it's possible that the child will choose a different path than his or her parents, it's not likely. Parents set the example and it is important that they become a positive authority during mealtime.

The concept of this skewed perception of weight is quite thought-provoking. I wasn't at all surprised that the overweight mothers were raising overweight children, but I was surprised that many of these mothers actually found their overweight or obese child's weight to be normal. This means that these mothers had no intention of working on helping their child obtain a healthy weight, which is downright dangerous.

As people as a whole get larger in size, we compare them to even bigger individuals, and then they seem 'not so big.' As the obesity level increases, those who were once obese become merely overweight. We begin to not question the increase in obesity.

As a nutritionist, I see the other side of this study. The side where nutritionally fit parents raise healthy children.

All of my clients look and feel great and they have not all been blessed with perfect frames; they are of all shapes and sizes. However, they come to me for advice on how to maximize the level of nutrition in their diets and by strictly following my results they are able to maximize their results and their body types. Not surprisingly, my clients with children have healthy, well-functioning children because they set good dietary examples.

My point in this is that people are generally in control of their bodies, unless there is a malfunction somewhere, which can still usually be regulated. Most people are not prone to obesity, but many people are not taught moderation, which is the unfortunate truth in our ever-growing obese culture.

This study lends further proof to the theory that the parents are the major problem in this growing childhood obesity crisis. An overweight child who is not pushed to become healthier will grow to believe that his or her eating habits are normal and that is not okay.

First Lady Michelle Obama has done a wonderful job this past year in educating the global community on the importance of our food choices, whether it is in the cafeteria, at the dinner table or when fine dining. I truly hope we are on the road to putting an end to this problem.

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