With latest figures from the Schools Child Measurement Programme showing a third of 11 year olds are overweight and obese, a new survey shows that we are still struggling to talk about obesity.

The survey, conducted jointly by the healthy lifestyles organisation Mend and Netmums, found that two out of five parents fear that talking about weight to their offspring will lower their self-esteem and may lead to an eating disorder. This figure rises even higher when it concerns parents of children already obese - two thirds of them struggle to discuss weight issues.

The survey is timely given that this week is National Childhood Obesity Week and Mend (which stands for Mind, Exercise, Nutrition... Do it!) have been instrumental in helping to raise awareness of how obesity can adversely affect the longterm health prospects of children.

However a recent article published last month in the Journal of Family Health Care (JFHC 22.3) claims that not talking about obesity may exacerbate the problem. JFHC editor Penny Hosie cited a leading obstetric doctor's opinion that unless we take early intervention measures and start talking to women of childbearing age before they become pregnant then obesity figures will continue to rise. She concluded by saying that lessons on obesity prevention should start in the classroom so that young girls don't pass on a lifetime of obesity-related health problems (such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease) to their offspring.

More than 1,000 parents with a child aged five to 16 responded to Netmums' Let's Talk About Weight survey, with one in six (15 per cent) reporting that their child was overweight.

A third of all parents identified their children's weight by looking at them or comparing them with others their age, rather than measuring it or getting it confirmed by a doctor.

Research shows that "sizing up" a child by sight alone often results in parents of fat youngsters wrongly believing they are a healthy weight.

Mend and Netmums are calling on more parents to find out if their child is a healthy weight by checking their Body Mass Index, a measurement that relates weight to height.

Children who have a high BMI and stay fat are more likely to have high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood insulin levels - all risk factors for heart disease - by the time they reach their mid-teens, say experts.

Paul Sacher of Mend said: "It can be very difficult for parents to tell if their child is a healthy weight or not simply by looking at them.

"The easiest way to check is to measure their weight and height, then use an online BMI calculator (www.mendcentral.org). "

Siobhan Freegard of Netmums said that although discussions about weight might initially be tough, "the family talking together and working together to find healthier ways of eating will lead to happier and healthier children".

However, Tam Fry, Honorary Chairman of the Child Growth Foundation, added a note of caution about relying on the BMI as an accurate indicator.

"It is not a precise measurement and could well lead parents into thinking that their children with a high BMI are overweight when. in fact, they are not. By all means calculate the BMI at home but always discuss it with a trained health professional before jumping to wrong conclusions."

Posted by Penny Hosie