Aim: To explore weight status perception and its relation to actual weight status in a contemporary cohort of 5- to 17-year-old children and adolescents.
Methods: Body mass index (BMI), derived from height and weight measurements, and perception of weight status (‘too thin’, ‘about right’ and ‘too fat’) were evaluated in 3043 participants from the Healthy Kids Queensland Survey. In children less than 12 years of age, weight status perception was obtained from the parents, whereas the adolescents self-reported their perceived weight status.
Results: Compared with measured weight status by established BMI cut-offs, just over 20% of parents underestimated their child's weight status and only 1% overestimated. Adolescent boys were more likely to underestimate their weight status compared with girls (26.4% vs. 10.2%, P < 0.05) whereas adolescent girls were more likely to overestimate than underestimate (11.8% vs. 3.4%, P < 0.05). Underestimation was greater by parents of overweight children compared with those of obese children, but still less than 50% of parents identified their obese child as ‘too fat’. There was greater recognition of overweight status in the adolescents, with 83% of those who were obese reporting they were ‘too fat’.
Conclusion: Whilst there was a high degree of accuracy of weight status perception in those of healthy weight, there was considerable underestimation of weight status, particularly by parents of children who were overweight or obese. Strategies are required that enable parents to identify what a healthy weight looks like and help them understand when intervention is needed to prevent further weight gain as the child gets older.