Kids who recognize they are overweight are more likely to attempt weight loss, according to a new study by the University of Massachusetts Medical School. But many are likely to underestimate their weight problem, say the researchers.
The findings, published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, also revealed that healthy-weight kids who think they are overweight are more likely to diet. These results suggest the extreme importance of helping kids, and their parents, gain an accurate perception of the child’s body weight.
“Unnecessary weight loss attempts can occur among healthy-weight children and adolescents who overestimated their weight status,” said lead author and graduate student Han-Yang Chen.
“Underestimation of being either overweight or obese may be linked to less motivation to engage in healthy weight-related behaviors.”
For the study, Chen and team analyzed data from two recent cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, between 2008 and 2010.
Parents of more than 2,500 kids (ages eight to 15) completed in-home computer surveys. Both children and parents separately rated either themselves or their child as “fat or overweight,” “about the right weight,” or “too thin.”
The kids also underwent a complete physical examination, including height and weight measurements, which were used to calculate body mass index (BMI). Based on BMI, 63 percent of the kids were of healthy weight, 17 percent were overweight, and 20 percent were obese.
However, six percent of the children perceived themselves as too thin, 75 percent as about right, and 19 percent as fat or overweight.
Parental responses were divided almost exactly the same way. More than a quarter of the parents and kids underestimated their weight class. Less than three percent overestimated their weight class.
In the surveys, researchers had asked the kids whether they were trying to lose weight currently or not trying to do anything about their weight. For healthy weight kids, those who overestimated their weight class were almost 10 times as likely to be attempting to lose weight as those who estimated correctly.
For overweight and obese kids, those who estimated correctly were about three times as likely to be trying to lose weight as those who underestimated.
Source: Preventing Chronic Disease