During a child's checkup, I spend time showing his/her parents (as well as older children in the family) their child's growth curve. This curve looks at a child's weight and height, and for children age 2 and older, their body mass index (BMI). This visual look at how a child is growing is always eagerly anticipated by parents, as they can then compare their own child's progress to norms by age.
This discussion becomes especially important during the toddler years, as there's growing data that rapid weight gain, even in this age group, may be associated with future obesity and morbidity. Discussions about improving eating habits and making dietary and activity recommendations need to begin sooner rather than later~
An interesting article in the Archives of Pediatrics relates to this subject. A study out at the University of Maryland looked at the parental perception of a toddler's (12-32 months) weight. The authors report that 87 percent of mothers of overweight toddlers were less likely to be accurate in their weight perceptions than mothers of healthy weight toddlers.
They also reported that 82 percent of mothers of overweight toddlers were satisfied with their toddler's body weight. Interestingly, this same article pointed out that 4 percent of mothers of overweight children and 21 percent of mothers of healthy weight children wished that their kids were larger.
Part of this misconception may be related to the fact that being overweight is becoming normal -- a sad statement about our society in general.
Further research has revealed that more than 75 percent of parents of overweight children report that "they had never heard that their children were overweight" and the rates are even higher for younger children. If this is the case, we as pediatricians need to be doing a better job.
We need to begin counseling parents (and their children, when age appropriate) about diet and activity, even for toddlers. By doing this across all cultures, we may be able to change perceptions of healthy weight in our youngest children in hopes that the pendulum of increasing obesity in this country may swing the other way.
(Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com.)