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Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007 Jan;15(1):165-71.

DXA measurements confirm that parental perceptions of elevated adiposity in young children are poor.

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Department of Human Nutrition, University of Otago, Great King Street, PO Box 913, Dunedin, 9054, New Zealand.



To compare parental assessments of child body weight status with BMI measurements and determine whether children who are incorrectly classified differ in body composition from those whose parents correctly rate child weight. Also to ascertain whether children of obese parents differ from those of non-obese parents in actual or perceived body weight.


Weights, heights, BMI, and waist girths of New Zealand children ages 3 to 8 years were determined. Fat mass, fat percentage, and lean mass were measured by DXA (n = 96). Parents classified child weight status as underweight, normal-weight, slightly overweight, or overweight. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2000 percentiles of BMI were used.


Parents underestimated child weight status. Despite having 83% more fat mass than children with BMI values below the 85th percentile, only 7 of 31 children with BMI values at or above the 85th percentile were rated as slightly overweight or overweight. In the whole sample, participants whose weight status was underestimated by parents (40 of the 96 children) had l9% less fat mass but similar lean mass as children whose weight status was correctly classified. However, children of obese and non-obese parents did not differ in body composition or anthropometry, and obese parents did not underestimate child weight more than non-obese parents.


Because parents underestimate child weight, but BMI values at or above the 85th percentile identify high body fat well, advising parents of the BMI status of their children should improve strategies to prevent excessive fat gain in young children.

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