Aims: To compare the parental perception of overweight and underweight in their children to objective criteria, based on body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and triceps skinfold thickness, and to explore the effects of potential determinants.
Methods: Logistic regression of anthropometric measurements, socio-demographic characteristics and self-reported parental height and weight on the parental perception of their child’s weight status in 3770 children aged 2–19.
Results: Seventy per cent of overweight/obese children and 40.8% of underweight children were perceived having normal weight by parents. In 2- to 5-year-old overweight children, 91.2% were considered to have normal weight. For a given BMI, primary school age children, adolescents and girls had a higher probability to be assigned as overweight, whereas adolescents and girls had a lower probability to be assigned as underweight. Overweight parents more readily assigned their children as underweight, but there was no effect of parental educational level or parental underweight.
Conclusion: Parental ability to recognize overweight or underweight in their offspring was generally poor. The findings emphasize the need for objective criteria based on physical measurements in the routine follow up of children, as parental ability to recognize weight problems in their children is nonreliable.