Overweight children who do not perceive themselves as overweight are much less likely to make changes in their life that would improve their body proportions. This is the conclusion of experts who have been studying the obesity epidemic in the U.S. Recent studies have found that children who see themselves as overweight or obese are more likely to get in shape by eating whole foods and exercising. Unfortunately, the same research found that 76% of overweight youth and 41.9% of obese youth age 8 to 15 years old consider themselves to be “about the right weight.” This weight misperception is higher among boys than girls, possibly because boys are less affected by societal pressure to fit a certain body image. It only makes sense that unless a child perceives their weight as a problem, they are unlikely to undertake the difficult task of changing their eating pattern and adopting a healthier one. This new research suggests that obesity is partly a body dysmorphic illness similar to anorexia nervosa.
Just like anorexia, the consequences of being an overweight child can be catastrophic for the child by the time he/she becomes an adult. Staying lean during childhood decreases the child’s risk for numerous diseases in adulthood like heart disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, adult onset diabetes, and premature death. Having a healthy diet and a realistic perception of one’s own weight seems to be essential for a child to grow up with normal weight. Figuring out how to convince an overweight child that they have an unhealthy weight (without demoralizing them) may be the key to solving the obesity epidemic in the U.S.
Changing overweight children’s perception of their body weight is vital; however, learning how to do that may be the next great challenge in the fight to reduce childhood obesity. Including children in the dialogue about health is the first step in finding the solution. Here are some ideas we thought might also help:
- Change a child’s image of his/her body by using digital photography to show the child what he/she would look like with normal weight.
- Team up with children and commit to eating well as a family
- Start an intensive public educational campaign using cartoon characters and other marketing ploys aimed at children to convince them that being lean and in-shape is cool
- Limit the marketing of nutritionally poor children’s foods during kids’ programming time on TV
- Only provide nutritional and balanced lunches in school cafeterias and limit the number of calories from fat that can be served per meal
- Remove all vending machines from schools
Regardless of the strategies that society decides to use, convincing overweight children that their bodies are not healthy must be part of the solution. We know that obese children have difficulty perceiving when they are full and should stop eating. We now know that they have a similar inability to perceive themselves as overweight. Let’s try to use this information to create new ways to help them.
If you have any comments about this article, childhood obesity, or related topics, feel free to leave your feedback on my blog, www.DocSmo.com. We would love to hear from you. Until next time.
Written collaboratively by Rebecca Brenner and Paul Smolen, MD.