NZ parents' reactions to weight screening in young children

01 December 2016
Obese boy

A New Zealand study looking at parents’ reactions to health screenings to assess whether children are overweight or obese has concluded that traffic light charts for weight status could be useful.  

The research, published in the journal Paediatric Obesity, also found that a positive non-judgmental experience at the consultation lead to greater parental acceptance of their child’s weight status.

The study was undertaken because parents often have difficulty recognising their child is overweight, while doctors are often reluctant to initiate discussion about such a sensitive matter.

The authors say routine feedback to parents about a child’s unhealthy growth is uncommon and this means opportunities to improve or modify that growth are lost.

The researchers interviewed the parents of more than 200 overweight children who attended a weight screening appointment.

Motivational interviewing techniques were used for half the group, while a best practice care approach was used for the other half. 

A traffic light representation of BMI was used in both groups.  This approach splits BMI groupings into red, yellow and green zones to talk about immediate and future health consequences and avoids the use of labels such as overweight or obese.

In a follow-up questionnaire, parents rated the traffic light idea highly with around three-quarters saying it was easy to understand and a clear way to visually present their child’s BMI.

The way the feedback was delivered (either through motivational interviewing or best practice care) was also rated by parents.

Overall, most parents (84%) were positive about the way feedback was delivered, in particular that there was no judgement and they did not feel blamed.  

Parents receiving feedback through motivational interviewing were significantly more likely to say the discussion was empathetic, but more parents in this group found the feedback uncomfortable.

The authors conclude that, “Parents were generally very positive when told their young child was overweight when a simple traffic light BMI chart was used and pejorative terms such as ‘obese’ avoided.”

They say that parents’ generally positive reaction to feedback about their child’s weight when it’s delivered empathetically and sensitively show that there’s a “mismatch between health professional perceptions of how difficult these discussions are and reality, in that most parents are receptive to the information if delivered well.”

They conclude that the specific approach is not as important as the practitioner displaying a lack of judgment.

 “Practitioners need not be anxious about these discussions, but it is critical that they deliver their message in a non-judgmental and empathetic manner so that parents have a positive perception of the interaction, making them more likely to accept the information.”

You can read more about this study into parental reactions to weight screening in New Zealand here.