Nearly a third of parents (31 per cent) underestimated their child’s weight, while only in the most extreme cases were parents aware of it, according to researchers.
Out of a group where 369 children were officially identified as very overweight, only four parents described their children as such.
The research leads to questions about the effectiveness of Government health campaigns to tackle obesity from the home, such its flagship Change4Life programme.
Recent figures show that one in ten children is now obese by the time they reach primary school, a trend which has been worsening over the past few decades.
The research also found that UK parents are additionally more likely to underestimate their child’s weight if they are from more deprived backgrounds or if their offspring is male, or if they are black or or south Asian heritage.
Dr Sanjay Kinra, co-lead investigator, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and said, ‘If parents are unable to accurately classify their own child’s weight, they may not be willing or motivated to enact the changes to the child’s environment that promote healthy weight maintenance.’
Professor Russell Viner, co-lead investigator from UCL institute of Child Health said, 'Measures that decrease the gap between parental perceptions of child weight status and obesity scales used by medical professionals may now be needed in order to help parents better understand the health risks associated with overweight and increase uptake of healthier lifestyles.'
In her report last year, chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies said society may be ‘normalising overweight', adding that today, one-third of children aged 2 to 15 are overweight or obese. ‘This represents a profound change in the health of the nation over a relatively short period of time: in 1980, around 7 per cent of adults were obese compared with around 25 per cent today,’ she said.