Eat Healthy, Grow Strong: Do Parents Care About Childhood Obesity?

Torrance mom Nadia Ross* took her 4-year-old son to the pediatrician for a routine check-up, only to be told he was obese. Although she understands that there are health risks involved with carrying extra weight, Ross did not think to consult a pediatrician about her son’s “chubbiness.” In a study conducted by Children’s Mercy Hospital and Clinics in Kansas City, Mo., researchers found that only half of parents surveyed considered it “very important” to seek medical attention for an obese child.

“Some moms don’t recognize that their children are becoming obese,” says Dr. Garry Sigman, director of the Loyola University Medical Center Child Obesity Program and a consulting physician at ProActive Kids Foundation, an Illinois-based organization dedicated to reducing childhood obesity through a comprehensive lifestyle program. Sigman notes that the adage, “a chubby baby is a healthy baby,” still exists.

According to the Children’s Mercy Hospital study, 83 percent of parents surveyed would indeed seek medical attention for their obese child. However, 94 percent said they would get medical help if the child had a condition that would limit his or her life expectancy and 93 percent would seek help for conditions that would lead to high medical costs later in life. The irony, according to the researchers, is that childhood obesity contributes to both.

Sigman believes that one reason for parents’ apparent lack of concern could be that they feel there is little they can do to intervene. Another possible reason involves facing difficult truths. “Obesity occurs by generation,” he says. “If you open your mind to the fact that your child has a problem, you may have to acknowledge that you have a problem, as well.”

Parents and pediatricians can work together on how to help a child who is obese. Sigman states that pediatricians can actively support parents over time to identify what aspects of their child’s weight they think they can change, whether they are confident about making a change and whether they would like suggestions on how to get started.

“Obesity,” notes Sigman, “is a deep cultural phenomenon that people from all levels of society must address.”

First 5 LA is currently running a healthy-eating public outreach campaign, Eat Healthy, Grow Strong, to encourage parents and caregivers to feed nutritious food to their young children. One of First 5 LA’s four strategic goals is that children maintain a healthy weight, and the campaign offers resources, tips, recipes and events that focus on eating right. Learn more by visiting the First 5 LA parenting website’s Eat Healthy, Grow Strong hub.

*Name changed for privacy at subject’s request

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