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American kids have false idea of their weight status, CDC says

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By The Washington Post
Thursday, July 24, 2014, 5:12 p.m.

The good news is that after decades of furious growth, obesity rates seem to be leveling off in the United States. The bad news is that America's youth appear to be dangerously unaware of the problem.

Forty-two percent of obese children and adolescents ages 8 to 15 misperceive their weight as normal, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. Among obese boys, the rate is 48 percent; for obese girls, it's 36 percent. America's overweight children are even more confused — about three-quarters of overweight children and teens consider themselves to be “about the right weight.”

The misperception isn't characteristic only of heavier children. About one-half of underweight children don't know they're underweight, and a third of all American kids — over-, under- and just-the-right weight — mistake their weight status.

Given the exceptionally high rate of obesity among American adults — the highest of any major country — the lack of self-perception among obese children should be alarming. Nearly a third of American kids are overweight, according to the Food and Research Action Center, and about 35 percent of them become obese in adulthood.

Obesity is a national health epidemic — linked to conditions including heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes —and a serious economic problem; as of 2008, the annual medical costs of obesity alone amounted to almost $150 billion, according to the CDC.

The fact that so many overweight children and teens don't know they're overweight is likely to perpetuate the country's overeating (and under-exercising) problem. “Accurate self-perception of weight status has been linked to appropriate weight control behaviors in youth,” the CDC report says.

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