Childhood obesity is a big problem in the US. One third of American children are overweight and that number has been growing steadily for the past few years. As worrying as this is, most parents don’t know there’s a problem. Or, more specifically, they think it doesn’t apply to their own child.

We are all too familiar with the negative health effects of obesity, and these are even worse when we are talking about children and adolescents. Obese kids are more likely to have consistently high blood sugar levels and develop diabetes in the long term. They are also at risk of suffering from cardiovascular issues, high cholesterol and high-blood pressure. Besides, overweight children and adolescents have a higher chance of suffering from bone and joint problems and sleep apnea. Obese youth are much more likely to be obese adults as well, and that means being at risk of stroke, several types of cancer, osteoarthritis and heart disease. All of this without delving into social and psychological problems related to bullying and low self-esteem.

childhood-obesity-boy-fruit-pastries-food

We’ve established that childhood obesity is pretty terrible, so why are parents doing nothing about it? One recent study suggests that most parents literally can’t tell that their children’s weight is not healthy. A whooping 95% of parents of overweight children considered their children’s weight to be “just right”. At first this looks like willful ignorance, it’s tough to look at your own kid and admit there’s something wrong, but that’s not the only reason. If one third of children are obese, then it gets significantly harder to find a frame of reference for what “normal” or “healthy” should look like.

So, how do we fix it? First of all, admitting there’s a problem. Some parents believe that their kids will outgrow that extra weight, even if they are a bit chubby now. But that’s really far away from the truth. We know that childhood is the time to start teaching healthy habits and behaviors that will carry on into adulthood.

Speak with your pediatrician and learn what your kid’s healthy weight should look like. Growth charts can be confusing or vague, so don’t be afraid to ask all the questions you need. And even if your child’s weight is “just right”, it is always a good idea to teach healthy lifestyle habits anyway, instead of relying on super-fast kiddie metabolism. Enforce a varied diet, limit unhealthy treats and snacks and stress the importance of exercise from a very early age. Encourage your kids to find a sport they like, to ride their bike outside and to walk with you whenever possible, instead of taking the car to go to the corner store.