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My child is fat? How helpful of you!

Australian TV and radio personality Chrissie Swan made headlines a little while back when she posed for some beautiful family photos in The Australian Women’s Weekly and was subjected to a barrage of online abuse from internet trolls who thought it was a great idea to round on her for being overweight and having a toddler who was heavier than the ideal.

A few days later, Chrissie published a piece in Sunday Life about how she came to realise that her cherubic toddler Leo was growing into a chubby little boy. Funnily enough, it wasn’t thanks to the helpful advice from internet trolls. A maternal and child health nurse suggested that Chrissie see a paediatric dietitian for help.

What was missed in all the hype is that Chrissie is no different from most parents out there.

Study after study has shown that most parents fail to recognise when a child is overweight- and that when a child is obese, parents tend to underestimate just how overweight they are. Especially, as in Chrissie’s case, when the child has healthy eating and exercise habits. Funnily enough, this phenomenon appears not to be limited to parents: one study of medical students and doctors showed that this group also have difficulty in visually assessing a child’s weight. All of this underscores the importance of having all children’s weight assessed as part of routine check-ups whenever they see a GP. And of ensuring that GPs (often under-educated when it comes to nutrition and diet) are prepared to refer children to a dietitian when necessary.

What’s really sad is that the biggest concern for parents of children who have more body fat than is ideal is not their child’s long-term health. It’s worrying about the possibility of bullying or self-loathing based on appearance and the terrible impact these can have on a child’s emotional health. Who in their right mind would be worrying about the possibility of Type 2 diabetes in three decades’ time when they picture their child suffering the devastating emotional toll wreaked by bullying? That is something no parent, including Chrissie Swan, should ever have to contemplate.

Dealing with a bit of excess body fat should be nowhere near as complicated as our society has made it.

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