Parents’ Weight Perceptions Important to Preventing Obesity


Two new studies point to parents' perception of weight being an important factor in a child's obesity.

Two new studies point to parents’ perception of weight being an important factor in a child’s obesity. Researchers at the University of Melbourne and University of Washington studied parental perceptions of obesity and their children’s weight.

Dr. Rona L. Levy of the University of Washington conducted a survey of parents with children between the ages of five and nine who had a body mass index (BMI) in the 70th weight percentile or higher. “Dr. Levy and her research team found that even though all of the children had elevated BMI, less than 13 percent of the parents of overweight kids reported their child as currently overweight. Fewer than one-third perceived that their child’s risk for adult obesity was above average or very high.”

Dr. Pene Schmidt from the University of Melbourne’s School of Behavioural Science reviewed data from a survey of more than 2,100 children and their parents. “Dr Schmidt compared objective measures of children’s weight — such as Body Mass Index and waist circumference – with subjective perceptions of whether parents and children thought they were overweight, average weight or underweight.”

The study found:

  • More than 4 out of 10 (43%) parents of underweight children were incorrectly considered to be average weight by their parents;
  • Almost half (49%) of parents of overweight children incorrectly believed their child was average weight;
  • More than 8 out of 10 parents correctly identified average weight children as being average weight;
  • Parents were more likely to report that their sons were underweight and that their girls were overweight.
  • Parents of boys were less likely to accurately identify their child as being overweight.
  • Twice as many parents expressed concern about their child being overweight compared to underweight.


Dr Schmidt’s results showed that parents and children had difficulty determining whether they were the right weight. This demonstrates the need for more research to “determine how to best define children’s weight status — and how to communicate this to children and parents.”

“While public health campaigns are directed towards the prevention of obesity, it’s also important that the messages are getting through to the right groups,” expressed Dr. Schmidt.

“Clearly there is a significant misperception by parents of their child’s weight and risk for obesity,’ said Dr. Levy. “If we are going to address the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, parents’ description and awareness of their children’s overweight will have to be much more accurate.”

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