Parents blind to kids' fat problem
Some parents in Manawatu are unaware their children are obese and overweight because their own lifestyle choices "cloud their judgment".
About eight overweight children in Manawatu are referred for dietary help every month - a number expected to rise as services mature.
Central PHO dietitian Chloe Dollery said a growing number of overweight children had been referred for nutrition advice since the B4 School Check service began including height and weight measurements in 2008.
"Twenty or 30 years ago, to be the fat kid in the class was pretty abnormal - these days it's quite common and there is not quite the stigma attached," she said.
"Parents are not realising their children are overweight because it's very normal to be overweight these days.
"And often the parents are a bit overweight themselves and that can definitely cloud their judgment a bit."
A Health Research Commission study released this week, led by Otago University associate professor Rachael Taylor, investigated why 80 per cent of parents with an overweight 4-year-old were unaware of this.
"We know from doctors and other health professionals they are quite reluctant to talk about overweight and obesity with parents because it's a pretty sensitive, emotive issue," she said.
The study found parents did not respond any better to sensitive motivational interviewing techniques, initially developed for drug and alcohol rehabilitation counselling.
Feedback on "usual care" was just as good as for motivational interviewing, which was positive, Ms Taylor said, because usual care - giving feedback in a straightforward, non-judgmental and empathetic way - would be much easier for health practitioners.
Ms Dollery said both methods of encouraging parental acceptance would lead to change and it depended on the person.
"Everyone needs to be on the same page. There is no point in having one set of rules for the child if the parents are going to be eating junk food," she said.
"Ultimately, it is the parents' responsibility to control what that child eats up to a certain age.
"If a child is overweight and they are under 12 it's really the parents' responsibility - they have caused it because they are in control of the food that comes into the house."
Massey University management lecturer and anti-weight loss campaigner Andrew Dickson criticised the study, which he said could have a negative impact on children in the future.
"The more you draw attention to weight issues in children, regardless of whether they have weight issues or not, the worse their eating practices become - although probably not in very young children," he said.
"The body mass index does not give a good indication . . . but that's not to say there aren't kids out there that could not do with help from a dietitian or nutritionist.
"As you start labelling the children and telling them they are overweight and/or obese and they need to do something, it will probably breed a pattern of dependence on the weightloss industry for the rest of their lives."
An intervention package, designed to be run within the primary care environment, is now being tested in a randomised trial involving 203 families with an overweight or obese child.
If successful it will be developed and rolled out in general practice.