Is obese the new nor­mal for kids?

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEw - KEVIN COURT­NEY

Mir­ror, mir­ror on the wall, who is the skin­ni­est kid of all? Me, of course!

It’s well known that grown-ups are given to self-delu­sion when it comes to their ap­pear­ance. I look in the mir­ror, and I still see George Clooney grin­ning mis­chie­vously back at me.

But a study has found that chil­dren also have a skewed self-im­age, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to weight. Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est data from the Grow­ing Up in Ire­land lon­gi­tu­di­nal study on child de­vel­op­ment, about 20 per cent of chil­dren aged 13 are over­weight and 6 per cent are obese, but not all of them see it that way.

Around 20 per cent of those over­weight chil­dren think they’re the per­fect size, or per­haps even a lit­tle too thin. It’s like they have a fair­ground mir­ror at home that squeezes their plus-size re­flec­tion into su­per­model size-zero di­men­sions.

The State-funded study has been look­ing the de­vel­op­ment of chil­dren from the age of nine, and found “a cer­tain level of mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion” around weight. The study, con­ducted by the Eco­nomic and So­cial Re­search In­sti­tute (ESRI), found that 21 per cent of chil­dren cat­e­gorised as over­weight or obese reck­oned they were “just the right size” or “a bit skinny”.

So, is obese the new nor­mal for kids? Well, when you’re in a class­room full of skinny kids, you might feel more aware of that puppy fat. But if all your friends are over­weight, you might be think­ing, “there’s not a pick on me – bet­ter eat some more dough­nuts.”

This lat­est re­port is based on more than 7,400 in­ter­views con­ducted in 2012 when the sub­jects were 13, and it found that girls were more likely to have weight is­sues than boys. It also found that weight is­sues were more preva­lent among chil­dren from dis­ad­van­taged ar­eas: around 32 per cent of 13-year-olds with weight is­sues were from lower so­cioe­co­nomic back­grounds. And, say the re­searchers, once these weight is­sues are es­tab­lished at that age, they are harder to shift, mean­ing that mir­ror will be telling lies for many years to come.

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