Half of the mothers who took part in a study thought that their obese four or five year-old was normal weight, as did 39 per cent of the fathers, according to the February issue of Acta Paediatrica.
When it came to overweight children, 75 per cent of mothers and 77 per cent of fathers thought that their child was normal weight.
More than 800 parents of 439 children took part in the study, carried out by researchers from the University Medical Centre Groningen in The Netherlands. Five per cent of the children were overweight, four were obese and the rest were normal weight.
"As well as asking them to provide information on their child's height and weight, they were also asked to provide information on their own vital statistics" says Professor Pieter Sauer from the Department of Paediatrics.
"We used this to compare the parents' assessment of their children with their own weight to see if there was any correlation. Data on the child and both parents was provided in 397 cases."
The study showed that:
"It's estimated that 10 per cent of children in The Netherlands are overweight, compared with 20 per cent in the USA" says Professor Sauer. "However, public perception of what is a normal weight has shifted upwards because more people are overweight or obese.
"Overweight children are very likely to become overweight teenagers and adults, so intervening when they are aged between three and five could prevent weight problems later in life.
"It is vital that parents are aware of their children's weight if we are to prevent them becoming obese in later life.
"The fact that the parents in our study perceived their children to be lighter than their BMI indicated is cause for concern.
"Our findings point to the need for health education programmes that encourage parents to recognise what is a normal healthy weight for their children and work with health professionals to tackle any weight problems."
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