Everything You Know About Obesity Awareness Is Wrong


Recently, Childhood Obesity News spoke of Dr. Eric Robinson of University of Liverpool, who looked into the question of whether awareness of one’s own obesity is a good or a bad thing. It seems evident, on the surface, that a person needs to know the problem exists before it can be effectively addressed. But strangely, and counterintuitively, he found that when people are aware of being overweight, they are actually more likely to gain weight. As the old saying goes, ignorance is bliss.

But that finding has to do with adults and the relationship to the self. What about parents and children? Dr. Robinson wondered the same thing, and followed up with another study in which he collaborated with Asst. Prof. Angelina Sutin from Florida State University College of Medicine, to look at how parents perceive a child’s weight.

Much has been made of the widespread blindness among parents to their children’s obesity. For a while there, it seemed as if the obliviousness of moms and dads was the worst problem in the arena.

Along came the Robinson and Sutin study, to rock the boat and possibly even send it to the ocean floor. Parental misperception of a child’s weight status can actually affect future behavior, but not in the way the public had become accustomed to think.

Background, objective, and more

The study Abstract begins by addressing the problem of parental cluelessness, and defining the query:

Although these misperceptions are presumed to be a major public health concern, little research has examined whether parental perceptions of child weight status are protective against weight gain during childhood. Our objective was to examine whether parental perceptions of child weight status are associated with weight gain across childhood.

The subjects were more than 3,500 Australian children and the conclusion is anxiety-provoking:

Contrary to popular belief, parental identification of child overweight is not protective against further weight gain. Rather, it is associated with more weight gain across childhood.

Common sense dictates that anyone who is aware of her or his own obesity would take positive steps to change and improve the lifestyle causing it. But “what should be” often bumps up against reality, and in this world it now appears that awareness of one’s obesity does not always lead to positive change, and neither does a parent’s awareness of a child’s obesity.

This looks chillingly similar to a Catch-22, or a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” quandary. What good is awareness? What is the purpose of Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, if there is no right answer?

Yet Dr. Robinson tends to believe there are answers, even if we haven’t figured them out yet. He says:

The way we talk about body weight and the way we portray overweight and obesity in society is something we can think about and reconsider. There are ways of encouraging people to make healthy changes to their lifestyle that don’t portray adiposity as a terrible thing.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Can the perception of a child’s weight cause weight gain?,” Liverpool.ac.uk, 04/21/16
Source: “Parental Perception of Weight Status and Weight Gain Across Childhood,” AAPPublications.org, April 2016
Source: “Believing you are overweight may lead to further weight gain,” liv.ac.uk, 08/06/15
Photo via Visualhunt

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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