Parents Can’t Tell If Their Kids Are Too Fat Any More

Parents Can’t Tell If Their Kids Are Too Fat Any More

We’ve all heard those phrases that denote a certain blindness to the passage of time. “She looks as young as the day I met her” husbands say of their wives 50 years into married life, or “haven’t they grown”, people tell me of my children. How about “it wasn’t even hot” said the frog, realising too late that he had sat unawares in the pot while the water slowly crept up to boiling point.

Picture: Gaulsstin

The thing is, we don’t tend to notice change if it’s gradual. And according to a recent study from Georgia Southern University and published in Paediatrics, parents don’t recognise when their children have become obese.

Slow changes over time in anything we see every day become invisible and can be ignored – which is great for the ageing wives among us but not so helpful for frogs or children whose parents who should be taking notice so something can be done about it.

But is it just a matter of timing and what should parents do when they do eventually realise that something is wrong?

The new normal

Fat children may be invisible to their parents not only because the weight gain has been gradual but because their point of reference has changed. The term “obesity” not only means excess body weight but it also implies disease, illness, difference and a “problem”.

But since the prevalence of obesity has increased dramatically over the past 40 years, and as populations get fatter, the new normal has become overweight and therefore invisible. By comparison fatter children are now thin. And as seats on aeroplanes, buses or in stadiums get wider and clothes get bigger, being obese is no longer a problem, particularly for children who may only experience symptoms in their later years. So if nearly everyone is obese then bizarrely no one is.

And so the “obese” become only those we see on TV being airlifted out of their houses – not the now “chubby”, “well covered” or “big boned” children living in our own homes.

Frogs boil because the change is gradual. And if all frogs were boiled, a boiled frog would be the norm.

Taking positive action

Parents need to be encouraged to see that their child is overweight so they can do something about it, or be aware that it could happen.

But what should they do so as not to make matters worse? We don’t want our children to be overweight because it can cause them to be teased, having low self-esteem or develop illnesses in childhood such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or cancer in later life.

But neither do we want them to develop an eating disorder and become anxious about their weight in ways that prevent them from losing weight in a healthy way. In my recent book, The Good Parenting Food Guide, I outline some evidence-based tips for helping a child lose weight without making food into a problem.

Central to this is the art of subtle (even underhand) control that children aren’t even aware is going on. So have active weekends (rather than nagging them to be more active), buy healthier food (rather than telling them to eat better), give them a smaller portion on a smaller plate (rather than expecting them to leave food) and be a good role model for eating well and being active (rather than eating what they like in front of them and expecting them not to want it).

Eating behaviour and exercise are governed by processes such as availability, modelling and association. At its simplest, we do what we like, if others do it and if it’s easy to do.

Parents need to recognise that their child is overweight, and when they do they need to manage it in a ways that does good not harm, seeking to change their behaviour in ways that won’t make a bad situation worse.

As I’ve argued before, health professionals can feel uncomfortable mentioning when someone is obese for fear of upsetting them or preventing them from coming back. But health professionals – and teachers, and good friends – who are perhaps less blinded by love can act as another pair of eyes, to show parents that something is wrong and, crucially, to offer positive ways to make things better.The ConversationJane Ogden is Professor of Health Psychology at University of Surrey. She does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


  • I might not be a professional on over weight people however there are some things here I certainly do not agree with. Also I can’t believe that Lifehacker has allowed a article that is here to just promote someone’s book. Yes she has fancy degrees and what not however.

    1. Jane I’m sorry but its because of people like you that children who are overweight but healthy put pressure on other kids because they don’t conform to social norms (For example having muscle in high school). You can be “chubby” and have no health issues.

    2. You are saying that parents are at fault. I grew up with 4 other siblings in my childhood and teens. My parents did the best they could to afford a income and ensure there was a roof over their kids heads. sadly things like rent, utilities and medical costs get in the way of things. And I’m sure picking me and my siblings up from school from coming back from work. Is pretty tiring!

    They don’t have the time to make food fresh and up to the expert standards. And no they didn’t have money to spend on expensive fresh food or fish. Pre-made meals where you simply buy a type of meat, add some sauce or what not. Thru it in the oven or on the stove and your done!

    3. Most the meals that take less than 15 minutes to make, doesn’t included the preparation. And it varies person to person depending on what type of skills they have in the kitchen!

    4. What about people with illnesses that can’t lose weight. They do exist! They metabolic systems just don’t work as great as everyone else.

    5. Yes, I’m fat. And I exercises I am continually walking up and down flights of stairs because its faster than an elevator and walking around Sydney on an almost daily basis. My problem was stress! My body was storing fat, because of stress.

    6. I am personally going to critique your book deeply, I might make somes memes on controversial facts I know that would be in there. As well as a poorly rated review with an extensive reply.

    I honestly thought media outlets were created to produce unbiased opinion pieces. Sorry to lifehacker but you guys let me down here!!!!

    • You’re fat. Onya. Doesn’t mean you get to critique a qualified professor at a respected university because she’s critical of fatties and parents thereof. Lose weight, live longer.

    • “I am personally going to critique your book deeply, I might make somes memes on controversial facts I know that would be in there. As well as a poorly rated review with an extensive reply.”

      No offence, but you’re not qualified to critique her book. It’s not a critique, let alone a deep one, if you already have a predetermined viewpoint and are obviously reading it with the aim of confirming your own biases. And the fact that you want to rebutt her book by making memes shows what maturity level you’re working on. If you want to get a degree in a relevant field, conduct your own scientific research on the topic, and then write a paper rebutting her work, then maybe you’ll have the credibility to be taken seriously.

    • Your taking this rather critical, all the article is basically saying is that there is a growing number of parents who don’t recognize their children are at an unhealthy weight & with the knowledge we have now we can do better.

  • @Shaquille R , it’s quite obvious that you disagree with the message in this article – promotion of books aside, I seriously disagree with a lot of the counterpoints you raised:

    1) Body image is a complex problem in kids (obviously), but blaming the author is a bit of a cop out. Promoting healthy life choices is not the same as bullying a kid for being fat, nor is it advocating the extremes of anorexia and bulimia. For some reason it seems that many overweight people seem to mix promoting a healthy lifestyle (eating choices and fitness) with the extremes of negative media images and issues (such as photoshop, rake thin models etc.).

    2) I’m sorry to say that most of the time it actually is the parents ‘fault’. That’s not an insult to your parents or to your parenting skills but think about this: We have far more knowledge now about nutrition than our parents ever had – to ignore this and just continue ‘how it’s always been’ is something that needs to stop if it includes unhealthy eating patterns that will (not maybe but will) affect a childs entire quality of life. There is absolutely no benefit whatsoever from being overweight, it only invites health problems that can and will grow if left unchecked.

    Let’s take for example, labeling on packaging. There is no excuse in this day and age for not knowing what is a healthy and unhealthy option. All you have to do is look at the energy intake you get from whatever you buy at the supermarket (quick and easy meal or not) and not continually exceed your recommended daily intake of energy. You don’t need to ‘make fresh food up to expert standards’ or buy ‘expensive fresh foods or fish’. It’s a simple first step that will make a huge difference, and by simply pretending it’s too hard is just lazy and ultimately impacting your health. It’s a simple equation: energy in vs energy out.

    3) I won’t argue here, but I will say this – the saying ‘you are what you eat’ is so true. I ate crap and didn’t bother preparing my meals properly for years. I stacked on the kilos, and eventually lost weight by a good diet. Take the time to prepare meals, they don’t have to take an hour or even 30 mins, you just have to remember the above point (energy in vs. energy out).

    4) Yes they exist, but so very often used as an excuse by people that don’t have those problems.

    5) One thing anyone that has lost weight will tell you – you simply cannot out-exercise a crappy diet. Once again energy in vs. energy out – such a basic concept that so many seem to ignore.

    6) Go ahead and critique the book. I hope you read it. So many overweight people are that far in denial and/or oblivious to the most basic nutrition principles that they will blindly defend being ‘fat’, putting themselves and their children at risk for no reason other than their stubbornness. It’s a trend that needs to change.

    This is not about body image, as much as you might want to make it out to be. Stop being a ‘victim’ as you seem to portray yourself. There is only one thing responsible for being overweight – not stress, not other people, not your ‘slow’ metabolism, not that rare self-diagnosed medical condition. It’s not even entirely what you eat – it’s just how much of it you have of it.

    I would know. I’ve been there.

    • @bmac

      We are all entitled to our own opinions, simply what the comment section are here for.

      With product labeling there are questions and there are additives that manufacture place in and barely describe. Most of the daily intake averages, and does not take into account a lot of things for everyone intake needs.

      These labels are helpful and haven’t been around for a long period of time.

      I am not trying to play “victim” nor do I have one of these conspiracy medical conditions. Articles like these that are biased are in the fact of weight and or appearance are just not right to me personally.

      Media outlets put messages into people’s heads by saying what is attractive and socially right and what isn’t. That there causes mental health problems and had been proven in the past with recognised studies.

      Writing a book like this and blaming parents is not correct. Schools do educate and parents are also involved by having the option to provide feedback. There could be several other issues other than the parents contribution.

      When kids go out with there friends what type of popular drinks do they buy (V, Coke?). What’s a cheaper alternative to buying a small salad I Sydney for instance? McDonald’s?

      I too have lost major Weight after making changes.

      My opinion in fixing the over weight pandemic would be more than likely be the Government putting Strick standards in premade ready meals and takeaway. The same as soft drinks by lowering the minimum level of Caffeine and the several types of Sugars.

      In most cases and in my own opinion over weight kids are not just over weight for any reason. It could be because of neglect, abandonment, signs of PTSD / Depression, eating disorders.

      Which I can agree makes it harder for any child in school.

      My point is that this article is blaming parents but so are not educated enough to understand labels, or even have time to read what’s in the actual products.

      The food industry needs to be further regulated and schools should also implement a morning walk before classes or a jog. There is several ways this issue can be addressed however parents can’t be the sole blame. This is something that more than just parents and health professionals can fix.

      There is a documentary I was able to watch before going mainstream called “aquaporko” look it up and than think. You may change your way of thinking

      • Schools do educate and parents are also involved by having the option to provide feedback.

        Don’t roll that line out… It should be the other way around. Parents are responsible for nurturing and guiding their children towards making appropriate choices in all aspects of their lives. The school (and by extension the food industry you mention) bear only a fraction of that responsibility. Formal schooling is around 11 years of a child’s life, you’re their parent until the day they put you in a home. As a parent you have a significantly longer period of time to help your kids make decisions.

        We don’t need strict rules on ready meals, takeaway and soft drinks. There are healthy alternatives for all of those things already available. It comes back to parents (and the parents of your child’s friends) making sure the kids get the right message.

        And as an adult and a parent – I echo @battl3bear ‘s sentiment of energy in vs. energy out – only my stand is eat less, move more and the rest will take care of itself.

      • Try taking personal responsibility for yourself and stop blaming others. If you can criticise others then you’re capable of turning your critical thoughts to your own attitudes and beliefs.

      • Just answer this one question: why are you fat?

        Hint: it’s not anyone else’s responsibility but yours.

        If any of what you said were genuine causes of societal obesity, then it would be almost impossible for anyone to lose weight. However, many people can, and do. I lost 25 kg a couple of years ago and have kept it off.

        People often quote the equation “Good diet + exercise = weight loss”. I think that’s wrong. It’s actually “Good diet + exercise + personal responsibility = weight loss”. If you accept that your choices are the only things that have led to your overweight condition, you won’t give up or blame other people and return to your former habits when you plateau, or have a lapse; you will take responsibility and get back on track.

    • I love it. THE EQUATION. It’s baffling how many people still think that simple equation either doesn’t work or doesn’t apply to them. It boggles the mind. It’s basic physics!
      No-one can ignore the laws of physics. You do not magically gain mass from nowhere. Humans are not magical, miracle engines creating mass out of nothing. That mass on your hips came from somewhere. Hint: you ate it, then didn’t burn it.

      Thyroid conditions, however, make this equation a little unpleasant. Because while it’s true that anyone affected by those disorders/diseases will lose mass, they’ll lose it from their muscles and internal organs before they lose it from their fat deposits. They’ll die from organ failure before actually getting any thinner.

      Thing is? Last stats I saw (for the US), out of obese folks, only about 15% actually suffered from thyroid conditions. So in a room of 20 fat folks, only three have any more work to do than ‘eat less, exercise more’. For everyone else – the vast majority – it’s that simple.

      Frustrating, hard, uncomfortable, long-term without visible results… Sure. But simple.

      People waste all this time and energy cultivating excuses and delays by looking into specific diets, going Atkins, paleo, liver cleansing, whatever bullshit happens to be the fad, none of it makes a lick of difference to the equation beyond fine-tuning. You wanna save that level of fine-tuning for the professional athletes who are trying to shred another 0.5% body fat off from diminishing-returns. Beyond that? It’d be like spending dozens of hours shopping around for the perfect motor oil for peak performance to put into your shitty 1988-model Nissan Pulsar. Don’t bother. Just follow the formula: more exercise, less food.

      Most people need to get down to a healthy weight first, THEN start dicking around with cholesterol levels, carb/protein ratios, vitamin/herb supplements etc. Or to put it another way… worrying about interior decorating is OK, but you should probably save it for AFTER you’ve put out the house-fire.

  • Here we go again… another never ending debate!

    Being fat is unhealthy and they are more studies about that then their are for anything else.

    1.There is no excuse, or benefits or anything else. Stop eating, loose weight and live long and think about you and the persons (wife, kids, and loved ones) around you.
    2. If you don’t want to take option 1, then do not expect any special treatment from everyone else. You made your choice then you must accept the consequences.

    Same is with everything in this life…

    PS: Parents are the ONLY ones to blame here, unless you expect a 3 years old kid to be able to make these kind of choices for himself in which case, you need to see a head doctor…

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!