May 07, 2019
2 min read

More than half of parents underestimate children’s weight

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Fifty-five percent of parents underestimate the degree of excess weight in their children, and 34% of children and adolescents underestimate their own weight status, according to data presented at the European Congress on Obesity.

“Despite attempts to raise public awareness of the obesity problem, our findings indicate that underestimation of child higher weight status is very common,” Abrar Alshahrani, MSc, a doctoral student in nutritional science from the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom, said in a press release. “This misperception is important because the first step for a health professional in supporting families is a mutual recognition of higher weight status. This is particularly important for the child themselves, the parents and the health professionals who look after them.”

In a systematic review and meta-analysis, Alshahrani and colleagues analyzed data from 87 qualitative and quantitative studies published between 2000 and 2017 that assessed caregivers’, children’s and health care professionals’ perceptions of children’s weight using Likert scale questions, classification into weight categories, pictorial methods, or reporting of height or weight. Reports of weight status were then compared with documented standards for defining overweight based on anthropometric measurements. Researchers calculated pooled effect sizes using random-effects models.

Random effect sizes revealed that 55% of caregivers and children underestimated the child’s degree of overweight (95% CI, 49-61), according to researchers. Health care providers shared this misperception; however, limited studies prevented meta-analysis, according to researchers.

Underestimation of child weight status was positively associated with child’s age, male sex, current BMI and parental weight status, as well as education and race.

The researchers noted that, in qualitative studies, parents often used terms other than “obese” to describe their children, instead using terms such as “big boned,” “thick” and “solid.”

“Identifying weight problems in childhood and adolescence is a unique window of opportunity to have a lifetime impact on health,” Alshahrani said in the release. “The results suggest that underestimation of child overweight status is highly prevalent. Addressing the factors which lead to inaccuracy in assessing child weight will have a positive impact on communication between children, parents and health professionals, and aid the mutual recognition of children’s higher weight status.” – by Regina Schaffer


Alshahrani AF, et al. Underestimation of weight status in children and adolescents aged from 0-19 years old: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Presented at: European Congress on Obesity; April 28-May 1, 2019; Glasgow, Scotland.

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.