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Many parents unaware of obesity in children

Many parents unaware of obesity in children

Many parents of obese children are unaware their offspring are dangerously overweight, an AUT study shows.

Scott Duncan, a PhD student in AUT’s Division of Sport and Recreation, recently completed the Body Size and Steps in Children Study (BASICS) of 1229 Auckland primary school children. The study showed only 28.4 per cent of parents or caregivers of obese or overweight children perceived them to be overweight.

“This is surprisingly low, and may explain why childhood obesity has reached such epidemic proportions. If most parents aren’t aware their children are developing unhealthy eating habits, not exercising enough, or even noticing they are overweight, then there is a real problem,” says Scott Duncan.

The study found that none of the Indian parents surveyed correctly identified their children as overweight and only 9.8 per cent of Pacific Island parents with overweight children were aware of the problem.

Of children classified as obese, a higher proportion of parents in all ethnic groups were able to perceive the excess body fat. Yet even the highest percentage recorded was only 68.2 per cent (Maori), leaving 31.8 per cent of parents in this group perceiving their children as either normal weight or underweight.

“This is clearly an important issue that requires urgent attention. Educating parents about the long-term health risks associated with childhood obesity and providing a means to prevent it developing in their children will be key steps in the effort to reduce obesity in New Zealand children.

“Determining the best way to do this in each ethnic group is the next challenge.”

The research also measured the amount of physical activity undertaken by children over a five-day period through the use of pedometers, which measure the number of steps taken.

Boys took around 2000 more steps a day than girls and averaged 16,420 steps each weekday and 13,050 steps each weekend. Girls averaged around 14,280 steps each weekday and 11,520 steps each weekend.

“These results were relatively encouraging given overseas data – New Zealand children seem to be accumulating more steps than children from Australia and the USA, and around the same number as Swedish children, ” says Scott Duncan.

However, he believes the lower physical activity levels observed in the weekends needs addressing.

European boys and girls were 40.6 per cent more likely to be overweight or obese if they had their own television. Households with more than one television had increased levels of body fat in European and Maori boys.

Children who received less than 9.5 hours of sleep each weeknight were twice as likely to be obese as children who received at least 11 hours of sleep.

“Although there may be physiological mechanisms involved, it is also likely that children who are awake later at night will snack before bed.”

Eating excessively at this time will maximise the amount of fat stored by the body and will increase the chances of children becoming overweight or obese, says Scott Duncan.

“The challenge now for policy makers is to come up with effective intervention techniques to help stem the tide of the obesity epidemic in New Zealand children.”


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