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It’s probably safe to say that if a kid is overweight, their parents – you know, the people responsible for feeding these not-so-little people – are at least partly responsible.

Well, according to a new study, that doesn’t stop those very parents from being cruel or unfair to the fat kids they created.

Researchers at the University of North Texas in Denton have found that parents may be less likely to chip in and help their overweight kid buy a car. “No one is going to be surprised that society discriminates against the overweight, but I think it is surprising that it can come from your parents,” researcher Adriel Boals told Reuters.

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifying 20% of children and 18% of teens as obese, that’s a lot of kids who could potentially get short-changed. In the current study, the researchers looked at 379 college students and discovered that those who paid for their cars themselves had a higher average body mass index in relation to students whose parents helped with the purchase. When they trained their sights on the 82 students who paid for their cars without assistance, they found that 39% qualified as overweight or obese versus 18% in the group that got a financial leg up. Neither gender nor family income played into why parents were more willing to help out their svelter offspring.

And why, you might ask?

Maybe they fear — and rightly so — that they’re less likely to succeed in life. Studies have documented that overweight adults often don’t fare as well at work, in school and in love. They are also less likely to complete high school, enter and finish college or get married and more likely to be poorer. Maybe it’s subconscious: “I don’t think the parents are doing this knowingly,” says Boals. Or maybe it’s Darwinian: survival of the fittest, in a literal sense.

Okay, we’ll admit that’s kind of a weak basis to draw such a sweeping conclusion from. And some experts aren’t buying the study’s findings either.

Dan Kirschenbaum, a professor at Northwestern University Medical School and author of the first book for professionals on treating childhood and adolescent obesity, casts a skeptical eye on the findings. “I don’t buy that,” says Kirschenbaum, who’s worked with obese teens for decades and seen no evidence that parents love their overweight kids less. Any chronic condition is stressful, and parents of obese children feel frustrated just like parents of kids with learning disabilities, for example. “It could be a reflection of greater strain in those relationships.”

If anything, parents of obese children are too caring, says Mike Bishop, executive director of Wellspring, which runs two boarding schools for weight loss: “From my experience, parents of obese children tend to be helicopter parents — overinvolved in their life and a little bit too caring, kind of killing them with kindness, which is how they got that way in the first place.”

Do you believe overweight kids get less love at home than their thinner siblings?

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