Overestimating their weight makes children much more likely to attempt weight loss, regardless of whether they are a healthy weight, or are overweight or obese.
Although only 3% of children and adolescents overestimate their weight, those who do are 9.5 times more likely to attempt weight loss, research from the University of Massachusetts Medical School suggests.
An analysis of 2613 participants 8 to 15 years of age found only 17.4% were overweight and 19.8% were obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s standards. However, 49% and 77.5% of children and adolescents in those groups respectively reported attempting to lose weight. Only 15.2% of participants in the healthy weight group reported attempting weight loss.
Researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in their analysis. They compared personal and parental weight perception with measured weight status to determine personal weight misperception and parental weight misperception. Interviewers measured height and weight during physical examinations to calculate participants’ body mass index.
Despite the greater likelihood of weight-loss attempts associated with overestimating weight, participants tended to perceive their weight status accurately, with only 27.3% underestimating their weight status and 2.8% overestimating it.
An analysis of parental perceptions revealed 73.7% of parents perceived their child’s weight status accurately, 25.2% underestimated their weight status, and 1.1% overestimated it.
Accuracy rates related to weight perception were highest when the child was in the healthy weight category, researchers noted. Despite this, only 25% of children and adolescents and 20% of adults were able to accurately identify weight status when the child was overweight. In obese participants, researchers found a higher accuracy rate in adults than in children.
“Accurate personal, but not parental, weight perception was positively associated with self-reported attempted weight loss among overweight and obese children and adolescents,” the researchers wrote. “However, healthy weight children and adolescents who overestimated their weight status made unnecessary weight loss attempts.”
“Behavioral interventions for accurate weight perception are needed for children and parents, because intervention efforts related to weight loss may be ineffective if individuals do not recognize or acknowledge that they are overweight,” they continued. “Our findings indicate that one of the major driving forces behind taking action to lose weight comes from the child’s perception, which suggests the importance of intervening with the child directly.”