Health visitors are too worried about offending mums and dads to warn them that their child is overweight, a new study claims.
Researchers at Nottingham University found that health visitors struggled to broach the subject of obesity with parents.
The report says the problem is so great that it could end up creating a long-term 'cycle of disadvantage' for obese children.
The report's authors say that health visitors consider weight to be a 'sensitive issue' and one that is difficult to discuss, and additionally, that some nurses believed mums and dads were happier to have 'chubby' babies, and so did not advise them of the long term implications for fat children.
Professor Sarah Redsell, of the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy at the University of Nottingham, said the main risk factors for obesity in children can be identified 'during infancy or even earlier', but that health visitors were 'unsure how to intervene without alienating parents' because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Writing in the journal Maternal & Child Nutrition, the researchers said that health visitors felt they had a role in advising parents about diet, but admitted they did not formally identify and/or intervene with larger infants.
'They believed some parents preferred larger infants and were unaware that their feeding practices might be contributing to obesity risk,' they wrote, adding: 'There is an urgent need for tools and training to enable all health care professionals to recognise and manage infants at risk of developing obesity without creating a sense of blame."
The researchers undertook telephone interviews of up to one hour long with 20 health visitors, seven nursery nurses and three registered nurses in Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire for the study, and contrasted the UK with the US where healthcare professional routinely monitor obesity risk factors in children.
The study found that breastfeeding and late introduction of solids reduced the risk of obesity, but found there were inconsistencies in the Department of Health's recommendation not to wean a babies until they are six-months-old.