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Parents fear talking to  children about their weight

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The results of a new survey conducted by MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition...Do it!) and Netmums at the outset of National Childhood Obesity Week reveal that 40% of parents are concerned that talking to their child about their weight will lead to an eating disorder. This figure rises to 65% of parents who identify their child as being overweight or obese.

More than 1,000 parents with a child aged 5-16 responded to the ‘Let’s talk about weight’ survey on Netmums and shared how they feel about bringing up the topic of weight with their child.

Over a third of parents (37%) feel that talking to their child about their weight might lower their self-esteem. Despite such concerns 42% of parents have attempted to talk to their child about weight but almost half of parents who had an overweight or obese child said it was an unhelpful experience for the family

Two thirds of parents (66%) said they’d like more support in talking to their child about weight. This increased to 85% of parents with an overweight or obese child

Only 32% of parents found it difficult to help their child stay healthy. However, this wasn’t the case for parents with an overweight or obese child as three quarters (72%) of these parents said they found it difficult to help their child to stay healthy. Most attributed this to their child’s preference for foods high in fat and sugar.

Three quarters of parents often talked to their children about what they eat (eg telling them to eat less junk food, asking them to eat more fruit and vegetables etc...) but over half of these parents haven’t talked to them about their weight.

This shows there needs to be more support for parents to broach the subject of weight with their overweight or obese child. MEND and Netmums are calling on more parents to find out if their child is a healthy weight or not by checking their BMI and taking steps to do something about the problem if necessary.

15% of parents reported that their child was overweight or obese. More than a third of all parents identified their child’s weight by looking at them orcomparing them to other children their age, rather than measuring their weight or getting it confirmed by a doctor.

Research shows that telling if a child is overweight by sight alone is generally inaccurate and usually leads parents of overweight children to mistakenly conclude that are a healthy weight. If left unrecognised this may have major implications for the child’s future health.

With over a third of children classed as overweight or obese in the UK, only a very small proportion of them are getting the practical support they urgently need to reach and maintain a healthier weight. The government clearly needs to do more to support these families.

We estimate that in the period 2005-10, approximately £1bn was spent per year on the prevention of child obesity, whilst in the same period; approximately £10m per year was spent on first line treatment. The government is spending significantly more money on preventing healthy weight children with less risk of becoming obese adults while under spending on children who are already overweight or obese and at a far greater risk of becoming obese adults.

MEND’s local healthy lifestyle programmes give children, families and adults the tools and knowledge to become fitter and healthier for life. Research shows that children on MEND increase their fitness levels, have a healthier diet, reduce their BMI and improve their body image and receive a boost in self-esteem.

Paul Sacher, co-founder and Chief Research and Development Officer at MEND says: “With obesity reaching epidemic proportions and becoming the 'norm', it can be very difficult for parents to tell if their child is a healthy weight or not simply by looking at them. The easiest way to check if your child is a healthy weight or not is to measure their weight and height and then to use an online BMI calculator (www.mendcentral.org).

"Through working with overweight and obese children and their families in local communities across the UK, we know the effect that unhealthy lifestyles and the obesogenic environment is having on our nation. With obesity-induced illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many types of cancer currently costing the NHS £5.1bn, the financial and human pain caused by obesity has never been clearer. The government must act now and prioritise obesity services in local communities to provide a healthier future for our nation.”

Dr Paul Chadwick, co-founder, Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Director at MEND: “The majority of parents of overweight and obese children are taking the courageous step of talking with their child about weight related issues despite concerns that by doing so they may also be doing harm. This is an awful situation for parents to find themselves in and many parents are probably quite distressed about this. Our survey shows that they clearly want and need more help in this area.”

 “With obesity affecting a third of the UK’s children, we can no longer afford for weight to be a taboo subject. It’s crucial that we talk about obesity in a helpful way with a focus on the positive aspects of being healthy rather than ‘looking good’. At MEND we can support parents and health professionals to talk about weight in a way which supports children to become fitter, healthier and happier.”

Netmums founder Siobhan Freegard said: "Tackling the issue of children's weight is a growing problem and it's concerning a third of parents are avoiding the issue for fear of lowering their child's self-esteem. Every parent wants the best for their child and although initially it may be a tough conversation to have, the family talking together and working together to find healthier ways of eating will lead to happier and healthier children."

"Good eating habits are passed on from parent to child and at Netmums we have lots of hints and tips for time-pressed parents to prepare quick nutritious dishes. With this survey showing one in five kids worried about their body, we'd urge all parents to work with MEND to check their child's weight is healthy."