WEDNESDAY, March 23 (HealthDay News) -- Overweight and obese
people often think they weigh less than they do, and many mothers
of chubby kids view their children's bulk as normal, new research
The study of women and children conducted at Columbia University
Medical Center in New York City found that faulty body image was
far more prevalent among the heaviest participants than people of
"The implications of this is the overwhelming impact of obesity on children who are growing up in communities where obesity and overweight is the norm rather than the exception," said lead author Dr. Nicole Dumas, a medical resident at Columbia.
"It sort of skews their image of what they see as being a normal or healthy weight," Dumas added.
The 111 urban moms -- whose average age was 39 -- and 111
children were asked to choose a silhouette that best represented
their own body size. About 66 percent of the mothers were
overweight or obese, as were 39 percent of their children, who
ranged from 7 to 13 years old.
Of the obese women, only 18 percent chose silhouettes that were
obese, while 76 percent chose overweight forms. The remainder
selected normal shapes to represent their body size. Of the merely
overweight women, just under 58 percent selected an overweight
shape, and nearly 43 percent selected a normal-size silhouette.
"There has been other data of overweight individuals that shows that your perception of body weight is different with individuals who are in a situation where the majority is overweight," said Alice H. Lichtenstein, professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University in Boston.
Noting that our society as a whole is hefting more fat, she said
living in a culture where obesity is common "is going to affect our
perception of ourselves and our children."
Excess weight is a risk factor for health problems including
heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Widespread misperceptions about
body size may represent another challenge in the war against
obesity, the study authors say.
The study, to be presented Wednesday at the American Heart
Association's scientific sessions in Atlanta, found that:
Nearly 80 percent of the participants were Hispanic; about 10
percent were black; 6 percent were white; and 2 percent were Asian,
with the remainder identifying themselves as "other."
About 66 percent of the moms were obese or overweight, which is
reflective of the general U.S. population, Dumas said.
But the study children's rate of overweight or obesity, at 39
percent, was higher than for American children in general, at 33
percent, she noted.
The study data show the need for health-care providers to
educate patients about the dangers of excess body weight, said
Lichtenstein, who also is the director and senior scientist of the
Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human
Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts.
Schools should teach home economics "with a 21st century
approach," she said, so children learn how "to choose and provide
foods that are going to result in a healthy body weight."
The Columbia research echoed the findings of a September 2010
Harris Interactive/HealthDay survey that found that 30
percent of overweight people thought their weight was normal, while
70 percent of those who were obese thought they were merely
overweight. Most thought that lack of exercise, rather than poor
eating habits, was the cause, the survey found.
The obesity epidemic isn't confined to the United States. "It's
a global issue around the world," said Dr. Robert Eckel, professor
of medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
and former American Heart Association president.
Its impact on children is serious, Eckel said.
"An obese child is going to become an obese adult," said Eckel. "Individuals, schools, health-care providers, churches and the government all have a role" to play in addressing this public health issue, he said.
Experts note that information presented at scientific meetings
has not been scrutinized as thoroughly as studies published in
For tips on maintaining a healthy weight, visit the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
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