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J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2008 Jul;47(1):76-80. doi: 10.1097/MPG.0b013e31815a34.

Body perception: do parents, their children, and their children's physicians perceive body image differently?

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McMaster Children's Hospital, Department of Pediatrics, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.



To compare children's, parents' and physicians' perceptions of children's body size.


We administered a structured questionnaire of body size perception using a descriptive Likert scale keyed to body image figures to children ages 12 to 18 years. The same scale was given to parents of children ages 5 to 18 years. The sample consisted of 91 children and their parents being seen in the Pediatric Gastroenterology Clinic for concerns unrelated to overweight. Weight and height of the children were measured, and body mass index (BMI) was calculated. The children's BMI percentiles were categorized as underweight (<15th), normal (15th-85th), overweight (85th-95th), and obese (95th and above). The attending physician independently completed the body image and description scale and indicated the figure that most accurately represented the patient without reference to BMI standards. Accuracy of the patients', parents', and doctors' estimates were statistically compared.


The sample population consisted of 6.4% underweight, 70.5% normal weight, 7.7% overweight, and 15.4% obese. Forty-four percent of parents underestimated children's body size using word descriptions and 47% underestimated using figures. Forty percent of the children underestimated their own body size using descriptions and 43% underestimated using figures. The physicians in this study had a higher percentage of correct estimates; however, they underestimated 33% of the patients using both word descriptions and figures. Some obese children were not recognized, and several average children were perceived as underweight.


Many children underestimated their degree of overweight. Their parents and even their attending physicians shared this misperception. This study demonstrates the need to further educate physicians to recognize obesity and overweight so that they can counsel children and their families.

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