My Child is Not Overweight, Doctor

September 3, 2010

Using data reported by parents can result in failure to identify as many as one in five obese children, according to research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine's 57th Annual Meeting.

Using data reported by parents can result in failure to identify as many as one in five obese children, according to research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 57th Annual Meeting.

“Parents tend to overestimate boys’ height and underestimate girls’ height,” said Daniel O’Connor, PhD, coauthor of a study that compared the measured height and weight of 1,430 children ranging in age from 2-17 years at an orthopedic clinic with the values their parents reported.

“The error was significantly greater when a parent reported the height of a child of the opposite sex,” O’Connor said. The study investigated correlations between magnitude of error of parent-reported data with gender, race/ethnicity, child’s age, and age-specific body mass index. Also noted was the parents’ tendency to round off numbers in making estimates.

Nearly half of the parents underestimated their child’s weight, and errors in reporting weight tended to be larger for girls and increase with age. Weight errors were also more significant in children who were overweight or obese.

O’Connor and Joseph Gugenheim, MD, the study’s other author, also found that ethnicity played a key role.

“The largest discrepancies were among African-American parents,” Gugenheim said, adding that Hispanics also tended to misreport their children’s weight.

The takeaway, according to O’Connor and Gugenheim, is that healthcare providers who work with young patients should take parent’s estimates of their children’s height and weight with a grain of salt.

“Trust, but verify,” O’Connor recommended. “When it counts—as in diagnosing obesity or calculating dosages—it’s best to measure carefully.” Giving parents the benefit of the doubt, Gugenheim noted that even a carefully observant parent can underestimate the height or weight of a fast-growing child.

For more information:

  • Pharmacy TimesPatient Counseling: Childhood and Adolescent Obesity-A Growing Epidemic
  • iMedicalApps—Michelle Obama’s Fight against Childhood Obesity Comes to the iPhone and Android
  • Video: Diabetes Prevention in the Latino Population
  • Study Links Childhood Obesity to Socioeconomic Status