Written and posted by: Bhawana Jain

Published on: January 13, 2017

Article Source: Association for Psychological Science

Abstract: It is true that the way a parent sees his or her child impacts the way the child views him or herself, but a new research suggests that perceiving your child’s body negatively could lead to even greater damages as children having negative self-image gained more weight than the child considered to ‘normal weight’.

Complete article:

If parents perceive their children as ‘overweight’, chances are there that their children gain more weight as they grow, study says. This occurs because children whose parents view them as obese generate a negative self-image of themselves compared with children whose parents thought they were a ‘normal’ weight.’

“Although parents’ perception that their children are overweight has been presumed to be essential to administration of childhood obesity, current studies have suggested the opposite; when a parent identifies a child as being overweight, that child is at higher risk of weight gain in near future,” psychology researchers Eric Robinson (University of Liverpool) and Angelina Sutin (Florida State University College of Medicine) write` in their paper published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.


During the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, the researchers assessed the data for 2,823 Australian families and measured the children’s height and weight from the beginning when the children were 4- or 5-year-olds. At that time, parents were asked to report their views on their children, whether they were underweight, normal weight, overweight, or very overweight.

After few years, when the children were 12 or 13, the children used a series of images depicting bodies that increased in size to indicate which image most resembled their own body size. The children also reported whether they had engaged in any behaviors in an attempt to lose weight in the previous 12 months.

Robinson and Sutin took height and weight measurements again when the children were 14 or 15 years old. The results showed that parents’ perceptions had a negative impact on their children’s weight which caused them to gain weight 10 years later. This means that, children whose parents perceived them as overweight at age 4 or 5 tended to gain more weight by age 14 or 15.

The above connection between the parents’ perceptions and child’s weight could be accounted for, at least in part, by the children’s beliefs and behaviors. That is, children whose parents viewed them as overweight created a negative self-image of their bodies and thus were more likely to report attempts to lose weight.

The results were no different for the two genders. Most importantly, the association between parents’ perceptions and children’s later weight gain did not depend on how much the child actually weighed when they began the study.

When Robinson and Sutin examined data from 5,886 Irish families participating in the Growing Up in Ireland study, they saw the same pattern of results.

Using these data, the researchers cannot determine whether parents’ perceptions actually caused their children’s weight gain, but “the findings of the present studies support the proposition that parents’ perception of their children as overweight could have unintended negative consequences on their children’s health,” Robinson and Sutin conclude.

Journal Reference:

Eric Robinson, Angelina R. Sutin. Parents’ Perceptions of Their Children as Overweight and Children’s Weight Concerns and Weight GainPsychological Science, 2017; 095679761668202 DOI: 10.1177/0956797616682027