Parental Predictions and Perceptions Regarding Long-Term Childhood Obesity-Related Health Risks

Published:February 11, 2016DOI:



      To assess how parents perceive long-term risks for developing obesity-related chronic health conditions.


      A Web-based nationally representative survey was administered to 502 US parents with a 5- to 12-year-old child. Parents reported whether their child was most likely to be at a healthy weight or overweight, and the probability that their child would develop hypertension, heart disease, depression, or type 2 diabetes in adulthood. Responses of parents of children with overweight and obesity were compared to those of healthy-weight children using multivariate models.


      The survey had an overall response rate of 39.2%. The mean (SD) unadjusted parent predicted health risks were 15.4% (17.7%), 11.2% (14.7%), 12.5% (16.2%), and 12.1% (16.1%) for hypertension, heart disease, depression, and diabetes, respectively. Despite underperceiving their child's current body mass index class, parents of children with obesity estimate their children to be at greater risk for obesity-related health conditions than parents of healthy-weight children by 5 to 6 percentage points. Having a family history of a chronic disease, higher quality of care, and older parent age were also significant predictors of estimating higher risk probabilities.


      Despite evidence that parents of children who are overweight may not perceive these children as being overweight, parents unexpectedly estimate greater future risk of weight-related health conditions for these children. Focusing communication about weight on screening for and reducing the risk of weight-related diseases may prove useful in engaging parents and children in weight management.


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