A new research suggests that mothers are over-feeding their children because they are unable to see if they are too chubby.
A survey of nearly 300 mothers found they struggled to judge the weight of their own toddlers.
Experts say this blind spot can lead to the youngsters being encouraged to overeat, predisposing them to obesity in later life.
The study was carried out by dietitian Rebecca Byrne who asked 276 mothers to describe their 12 to 16 month old toddlers as either underweight, normal weight or overweight.
The researchers then measured the children’s heights and weights.
Rebecca Byrne said the mothers thought 27 of the children were too thin, but only one of these toddlers was actually underweight, with the rest a normal size.
Additionally, while 32% of the toddlers in the study were actually overweight, only four per cent (12 of the 276 toddlers) were perceived as too heavy by their mothers.
Rebecca Byrne, of the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, said: “Mums are often worried their babies and toddlers aren’t eating enough.
“We put a lot of emphasis on weight gain in babies and toddlers as a measure of them doing well.
“I think the perception in our society is that a chubby baby is a healthy baby and the chubbiness is something they’ll grow out of – but they don’t.
“This sticks with them throughout childhood and they often end up overweight as an adult.”
She added: “Mums who are worried their child is not gaining enough weight, may pressure them to eat more or bribe them with dessert or treats.
“This can teach children to ignore their own cues of hunger and fullness, inadvertently promoting overeating.”
Rapid early weight gain before two years of age is associated with a two to threefold increase in the risk of obesity later in life.
Rebecca Byrne said parents are not given the support they need to understand normal child growth and how to pick up weight problems in their children.
She said: “Serious prevention efforts need to start early in life to reverse the trend of increasing childhood obesity and set kids up for life-long good health.”