Many parents simply can’t see that their child is overweight, research shows.

British researchers found only one in four parents accurately recognized when their child was overweight. In addition, a third of mothers and about half of fathers thought their obese children were “about right.”

Among overweight parents, 40 percent of mothers and 45 percent of fathers judged their own weight to be “about right.”

Researchers say the results show that parents are bad at recognizing overweight and obesity in themselves as well as in their children.

“The reasons for poor awareness might include denial, reluctance to admit a weight problem, or desensitization to excess weight because being overweight has become normal,” write researcher Alison Jeffery, senior research nurse at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, England, and colleagues.

“Acknowledgement of excess weight and an understanding of its health consequences are essential first steps in tackling obesity,” they write in the current online first edition oftheBritish Medical Journal.

Parents Don’t Recognize Overweight Children

In the study, researchers surveyed the parents of 277 children. The parents and children were weighed and assigned body mass index (BMI), an indicator of body fat.

Before they were weighed, the parents completed a written questionnaire asking them to estimate their own and their child’s weight on a five-point scale ranging from “very underweight” to “very overweight.” Parents also rated their level of concern about their child’s weight on a similar scale.

Both the children and the parents were significantly heavier than the U.K. norm, and 19 percent of children, 52 percent of mothers, and 72 percent of fathers were overweight.

Only a quarter of the parents recognized that their child was overweight. Even when the child was obese, a third of the mothers and 57 percent of the fathers thought their child’s weight was “about right.”

More than half of the parents of obese children expressed some concern about their child’s weight, but only a quarter were even “a little worried” if their child was overweight.

Parents were less likely to recognize sons as overweight than daughters. Only 27 percent of overweight or obese boys were classified as at least “a little overweight” compared with 54 percent of overweight girls.

Researchers also found that mothers were more likely than fathers to correctly assess their child’s weight. Whether or not a mom was overweight didn’t affect awareness of their child’s weight.

But only 74 percent of overweight fathers correctly assessed their child’s weight compared with 85 percent of normal-weight fathers.

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCES: Jeffrey, A. British Medical Journal, online first edition, Nov. 24, 2004. News release, British Medical Journal.