NUI Galway childhood obesity study finds low awareness among mothers

A significant number of mothers are unable to accurately identify the overweight/obesity status of their children, according to a recent study by an NUI Galway researcher.

The study, carried out by Dr Michelle Queally from the JE Cairnes School of Business and Economics at NUI Galway and colleagues from the Health Research Board funded project CHErIsH (Choosing Heathy Eating for Infant Health ), was recently published in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity.

Dr Queally noted that a mother’s recognition of her child being overweight and obese during early childhood is one of the key determinants in achieving a healthy weight status in childhood. The study highlights the need for increased support in Ireland to help improve mothers’ understanding of what defines a healthy body size in preschool aged children. Mothers who are unable to accurately identify their child being overweight or obese at three years of age are likely to do so again when the child is five years.

The study found that 22 per cent of mothers failed to accurately identify their child to be overweight or obese at age three. This inaccuracy decreased to 18 per cent when the child was aged five. This inaccurate identification was also more likely to occur if the child was a girl, had a higher birth weight, and if the mother was obese or working. Other factors affecting the odds of misperceiving a child’s weight included gestation age, income, and urban living.

The report also identified missed opportunities for early interventions to help parents to recognise a healthy weight for their children, as well as the need for intervention programmes specifically targeting low income families, a cohort which has a disproportionate number of children with obesity.

The NUI Galway study used data from the longitudinal Growing Up in Ireland study, which is a nationally representative face-to-face survey of children living in Ireland, which aims to inform policy in relation to children, young people, and families. Data was collected from almost 10,000 families of children aged three years and more than 9,000 families of children aged five years.

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