Accuracy of recalled body weight—a study with 20-years of follow-up


  • Anna K. Dahl,

    Corresponding author
    1. Deparment of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
    2. Institute of Gerontology, School of Health Sciences, Jönköping University, Jönköping, Sweden
    • Deparment of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden. E-mail:

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  • Chandra A. Reynolds

    1. Deparment of Psychology, University of California—Riverside, Riverside, California, USA
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  • Disclosure: Anna K. Dahl and Chandra A. Reynolds report no disclosure.

  • Funding agencies: This study was supported by National Institute of Aging (AG04563, AG10175, AG08724), The MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Aging, the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research (FAS) (97:0147:1B, 2009-0795, postdoctoral grant 2010-0704, FLARE postdoctoral grant 2010-1852), and Swedish Research Council (825-2007-7460, 825-2009-6141).



Weight changes may be an important indicator of an ongoing pathological process. Retrospective self-report might be the only possibility to capture prior weight. The objective of the study was to evaluate the accuracy of retrospective recall of body weight in old age and factors that might predict accuracy.

Design and Methods

In 2007, 646 participants (mean age, 71.6 years) of the Swedish Adoption/Twin Study of Aging (SATSA) answered questions about their present weight and how much they weighed 20-years ago. Of these, 436 had self-reported their weight twenty years earlier and among these 134 had also had their weight assessed at this time point.


Twenty year retrospectively recalled weight underestimated the prior assessed weight by −1.89 ± 5.9 kg and underestimated prior self-reported weight by −0.55 ± 5.2 kg. Moreover, 82.4% of the sample were accurate within 10%, and 45.8% were accurate within 5% of their prior assessed weights; similarly, 84.2% and 58.0% were accurate within 10% and 5% respectively, for prior self-reported weight. Current higher body mass index and preferences of reporting weights ending with zero or five was associated with an underestimation of prior weight, while greater weight change over 20 years, and low Mini-Mental State Scores (MMSE) (<25) led to an overestimation of prior weight.


Recalled weight comes close to the assessed population mean, but at the individual level there is a large variation. The accuracy is affected by current BMI, changes in weight, end-digit preferences, and current cognitive ability. Recalled weight should be used with caution.