Parental conceptions of weight are becoming increasingly inaccurate

1.  Compared to parents surveyed more than 10 years earlier, parents surveyed between the years 2005-2010 were more likely to believe that an overweight child 6-11 years of age was in the normal weight range.

2. The weight considered overweight by parents rose between the 2 studied time periods, with the greatest change seen in children from poor and African American families.

Study Rundown: As the prevalence of childhood obesity has dramatically increased over the last 30 years, researchers have examined the multiple determinants that contribute to weight gain. One possible factor may be parental perception of weight. This study assessed parental perceptions of weight status between 2 different time periods and identified the populations with the greatest change in perception. Between the study periods, a significant increase was seen among parents with overweight children who perceived their child as being normal weight. The greatest increases in weight-based misconceptions were observed among poor families and African Americans. The probability of correctly categorizing a child as overweight significantly decreased. Results may be limited as the definition of obesity changed between the 2 surveys, which parent filled out the health questionnaire in the later study period was unknown, and several demographic strata were underrepresented. However, these significant findings may provide healthcare practitioners with greater context in starting conversations with parents about childhood weights.

Click to read the study, published today in Pediatrics

Relevant Reading: Childhood obesity: Do parents recognize this health risk?

In-Depth [cross-sectional studies]: Data were obtained from children 6-11 years of age participating in the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) III conducted from 1988-1994 (N = 2871) and NHANES conducted from 2005-2010 (N = 3202). Relatives of participants were asked to categorize the child’s weight status as overweight, underweight, or “just about the right weight”. Body weight and height were measured directly by trained health professionals and used to calculate BMI and z-score. Parents with an overweight child who believed he/she was “about just the right weight” increased significantly between the 2 study periods (78% to 83% for boys and 61% to 78% for girls, P < .01 for both genders). The threshold of BMI z-score for parents perceiving their child as overweight increased significantly over the 2 study time periods (from 0.96 to 1.35, P <.05). The largest increase in z-score thresholds was seen among poor families (1.72 to 2.04) and African Americans (1.69 to 2.03). The probability of correctly categorizing a child as overweight decreased by 24% from the earlier study period to the later (probability ratio = 0.76 [95% CI: 0.67-0.87]).

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