The U.S. is facing an obesity epidemic not just among adults but with children as well. Many kids are now overweight and the problem may lie on the lack of physical activities among youngsters and their consumption of diet packed with sweetened and fattening foods.

The government has been adopting measures to curb the obesity problem but the situation poses challenges as many American parents apparently see their overweight kids as healthy. Findings of a new study show that more and more parents do not distinguish that their children have weight problems.

For the study published in the journal Pediatrics on Aug. 25, Jian Zhang, from the Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia, and colleagues, used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES.

The parents, who were mostly mothers, were asked if they think their child is overweight, underweight or just had the right weight. The height and weight of their child were then measured to determine the body mass index or BMI.

The researchers found that between 1988 and 1994, about 51 percent of the surveyed parents correctly identified their child to be overweight or obese but this number dropped to only 44 percent between 2005 and 2008.

"Overweight/obese children were less likely to be perceived as overweight in the recent survey compared with peers of similar weight but surveyed 10+ years earlier," the researchers wrote. "The declining tendency among parents to perceive overweight children appropriately may indicate a generational shift in social norms related to body weight."

Zhang and colleagues likewise observed that low income parents and African Americans were less likely to spot weight problems with their children and these groups happened to have an increased risk for obesity.

It also appears that parents do not assess the weight of their children by comparing this against a number recommended by health experts but rather by comparing their children's weight with those of their peers. The parents may thus see their overweight child's weight as the new normal if the child belongs to a class where most kids are also overweight.

"We rarely compare our weight status against an absolute scale or a number recommended by doctors," Zhang said. "Instead we compare to what our friends, neighbors, and coworkers look like. If we look like most of others, we of course perceive that we are just fine."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 17 percent of Americans between 2 and 19 years old are obese.

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