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Posted on January 11, 2016

A University of Limerick study has found that mothers of overweight and obese children struggle to recognize their child as overweight or obese.

The study reported on 7,655 mothers and their nine year old children using data from the national longitudinal study of children, Growing Up in Ireland. Study co-author, Professor Ailish Hannigan, highlighted that “while three quarters of overweight mothers and 60% of obese mothers in the study recognised themselves as overweight or obese, mothers of overweight or obese children were much less likely to recognise this in their child.” Just 1 in 6 mothers of obese children classified their child as moderately or very overweight.

“Interestingly, overweight or obese mothers with accurate perceptions of their own weight were more likely to correctly classify their overweight or obese child”, said study co-author, Dr. Helen Purtill. The public health significance of the study was highlighted by Dr. Kieran Dowd, Centre for Physical Activity and Health Research, University of Limerick “If mothers, who are the primary caregivers in the majority of Irish homes, are unable to identify their child as overweight or obese, it is unlikely that they will react or intervene to change this. This may result in continued weight gain throughout the remainder of childhood and adolescence into adulthood”.

“Open and honest discussions between health professionals and parents about the child’s weight status should be encouraged”, said study co-author Professor Clodagh O’Gorman, “together with practical strategies for helping the family maintain a healthy weight. Importantly, weight control measures aimed at children should be family-based and include all family members.”

The research, which was published in the international journal Archives of Disease in Childhood was conducted by a multidisciplinary research team at the University of Limerick composed of Dr Kieran Dowd (Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences), Mr Robert Kirwan (Graduate Entry Medical School), Professor Ailish Hannigan (Graduate Entry Medical School), Dr. Helen Purtill (Department of Mathematics and Statistics), and Professor Clodagh O’Gorman (Graduate Entry Medical School).

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