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Pediatrics. 2009 Jul;124(1):e60-8. doi: 10.1542/peds.2008-1845.

Maternal perception of weight status and health risks associated with obesity in children.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Potsdam, Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse 24/25, 14476 Potsdam OT Golm, Germany.



To examine factors associated with the maternal perception of the weight status in related and unrelated children and to examine whether associated health risks for children's physical and mental health are recognized.


Two hundred nineteen mothers with children between 3 and 6 years of age took part in this study. The participating mothers were recruited from inpatient clinics and kindergartens. Parents were presented with 9 silhouettes representing different age- and gender-specific BMI percentiles. Demographic and weight-related variables were assessed with regard to their influence on the accuracy of the maternal weight estimation in general and for their own child.


Of the participating mothers, 64.5% identified the overweight silhouettes of preschool-aged children correctly. However, only 48.8% of the mothers identified the overweight silhouettes associated with an increased risk for physical health problems, and 38.7% identified the silhouettes associated with an increased mental health risk. Mothers with a lower educational background were more likely to misclassify the overweight silhouettes and underestimate the associated health problems. For their own child, only 40.3% of the mothers chose silhouettes that were in agreement with the objective weight status of their child. This underestimation was associated with a higher maternal and child weight status but not with a general inability to identify the weight status of children.


Identifying unrelated overweight silhouettes is influenced by maternal education level, whereas estimating their own child's weight status is influenced by the weight status of the mother and the child. Hence, feedback on the child's risk to become overweight is necessary to increase maternal risk awareness and willingness to take part in prevention programs.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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