BMI Blindness in Childhood Obesity
- 87% do not realise that diet is a huge (80%) contributing factor to a healthy BMI
- Only 15% know that a child’s puppy fat converts into real weight by the ages of 10 to 11 years old
King’s College Hospital London in the UAE today announced the results of a study it commissioned to assess awareness levels of parents in the Emirates around child obesity, with a focus on body mass index (BMI)*, their children’s eating habits, as well as their perception of puppy fat. The study is part of an effort to better understand the factors responsible for the rising incidence of child obesity in the UAE.
Despite parents’ emphasis on their children’s health, the study observed that several parents may be touched by ‘BMI blindness.’ BMI blindness is when parents are unaware or are in denial of their child’s unhealthy BMI. Additionally, nearly 1 in 5 parents (98 out of 500) did not know what BMI means. In fact, fewer than a third of surveyed parents (140 out of 500) know their child’s BMI and, of them, 72 percent (101 out of 140) think their child’s BMI matches the recommended BMI for their child’s age, whilst only 28 percent of parents (39 out of 140) admitted that their child has an unhealthy BMI.
The study, conducted in November 2017, surveyed 500 females and males who represent a mix of UAE nationals, Arab, Asian and Western expatriates, are married, and have children, most of which who are between the ages of 0 and 10 years old.
Other findings include:
- Eighty-seven percent of parents (436 out of 500) did not know that diet contributes to 80 percent of a child’s BMI
- Fewer than 28 percent of parents (137 out of 500) do not read nutrition labels because, amongst other reasons, they either:
- Don’t understand the nutritional values on them and don’t know what to look for (43% of 137);
- Don’t think the values are important (12% of 137); or
- Don’t think those values affect whether a food is healthy or not (36% of 137)
Dr Gowri Ramanathan, Acting Chief Medical Officer at King’s College Hospital London in the UAE, said: “We don’t know the full scale of the problem of BMI blindness globally or locally. However, this study indicates that some parents struggle with the concept of unhealthy BMI or to recognise the early signs that a child is overweight.”
Often parents mistake the early signs a child is overweight with the so-called ‘puppy fat’, which is the fat children sometimes have. Puppy fat nonetheless is known to disappear as children grow up, usually by the ages of 10 to 11 years old. According to the World Health Organisation, over 60% of children who are overweight before puberty will be overweight in early adulthood.
The survey further reveals that over three quarters (63 out of 82) of the surveyed parents who have a child between the ages of 11 and 17 years think their child will shed that puppy fat if he or she is a little overweight. In other words, these parents do not recognise that their children, if they are a little overweight, are at high risk of being or becoming overweight or obese in their early adulthood.
Dr Gowri continued: “If not properly identified, what could appear as the cute ‘puppy fat’ can constitute a high risk to the child, and impair his health later in life.” Of the 500 surveyed parents, only 15 percent know that a child’s puppy fat converts into real weight by the ages of 10 to 11 years old.
Neil Buckley, CEO King’s College Hospital London in the UAE, added: “The study really helps to know where increased awareness is needed. The objective of studies like this is absolutely not to place the blame on parents, but to understand where the gaps lie and how we can help parents face those challenges best.”
Forty-two percent of surveyed parents (208 out of 500) don’t have a trusted Family Medicine Consultant (also known as a GP). They cite numerous reasons, such as not having found one they trust yet or like, but the majority alarmingly claim they think visiting a Family Medicine Consultant is a waste of time, especially when they could directly visit a specialist.
“What we need to help people and their families understand is that the Family Medicine Consultant will act as their health champion, and be with them throughout their journey to better health. He or she will know their family history and lifestyle habits, be able to adderess issues that may not be apparent to parents, and will therefore be able to safeguard against child obesity and other chronic conditions,” explained Neil Buckley.
There are more than 41 million overweight or obese children worldwide, and the epidemic is estimated to reach 70 million children by 2025. In the UAE, curbing the rising prevalence of child obesity is amongst the top priorities of the government authorities, healthcare providers and insurers, who are meeting today at the Child Obesity Forum in the capital to discuss next steps for addressing the epidemic.