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Parents don’t spot 2.4m children are overweight

Published: 28 Oct 2016

  • Only 9% of children (2-15 years) are considered overweight by their parents but NHS data says almost a third of children this age are
  • More than half of parents reward or motivate their children with screen time and 49% use sugary and unhealthy snacks
  • Only 35% of parents limit their children’s use of TV, computers or mobile devices
  • Parents say only 26% of children exercise the recommended hour per day
  • Only 41% of parents say keeping the family healthy is a priority 

UK parents are failing to recognise their children are overweight, as screen time, unhealthy snacks and dinner in front of the TV become the order of the day. Less than half of parents say keeping the family healthy is a priority for them.

Aviva’s research shows 9% of children aged 2-15 are considered overweight or obese by their parents, whereas NHS statistics indicate that nearly one third of children within this age range are*. This leaves 2.4 million** children falling into the child obesity awareness.


Table showing forms of reward or motivation used  


TV or screen time       


Sweets/chocolate/other unhealthy snacks             


Going to bed later


Fast food eaten out


Take-aways eaten at home








TV dependence causes death of the dinner table and missed exercise targets

Watching TV is the most common way families spend time together (42%), ranking higher than visiting places of interest (36%) or playing together (28%). When taking steps to ensure their children are healthy, only 35% of parents limit their children’s use of TV, computers or mobile devices.

It is recommended that children exercise for at least 60 minutes every day****, but parents say only a quarter (26%) of children exercise this much.


Sugary snacks and fizzy drinks more common than five-a-day:

Table showing dietary habits of children and adults recently surveyed:   



Eats 5 portions of fruit or veg per day



Eats at least one portion of chocolate or crisps per day       



Eats at least one portion of biscuits or cakes per day



Drinks at least one fizzy drink per day







Exercising more is the number one health goal for families in the year ahead

Time is considered the biggest barrier to families improving their health, but Aviva’s research indicates that many families have recognised they could do more to improve their health. Families have identified getting more exercise as their number one priority in the year ahead (35%), closely followed by losing weight (32%). Better sleep (29%) and more relaxation or free time (28%) were also popular.

Dr Doug Wright, Medical Director for Aviva UK Health comments:

“No parent likes to think of their child as being unhealthy, but there is a clear mismatch between the number of children parents estimate are overweight, and how many actually are according to official figures. Delve into the nation’s diet and it’s no surprise the country has a weight issue, with many families regularly reaching for high calorie, sugary food and drinks, and too few meeting diet and exercise guidelines.

“With time and money the biggest barriers to keeping healthy, it’s all too easy to sideline family health, particularly when trying to juggle work or other commitments alongside raising a family. However, failing to recognise and tackle poor health habits can lead to illness or even serious health conditions in the long-term, putting more strain on already stretched healthcare services.

“It’s time for families to remove the blinkers and tackle BMI blindness. Small lifestyle changes – like cutting down on sugary snacks, limiting screen time or walking/cycling to work and school – can add up to a big change and don’t have to be time intensive or expensive to have an effect.”


For more advice on healthy actions you can take, read our full report



NHS Health Survey for England 2014:
** ONS Population Estimates, Mid-2015, Table MYE2: There are 10,694,971 children aged 2-15 in the UK. Of these, 31% or 3,315,441 are overweight or obese according to NHS statistics referenced above. Yet parents believe only 9% of children in this age group have a weight problem, equivalent to 962,547 children. This leaves 2,352,894 falling into the obesity awareness gap.
*** Represents the proportion of parents who do this always or sometimes.
**** NHS Choices:

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