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Int J Obes (Lond). 2011 Jul;35(7):953-62. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2011.106. Epub 2011 Jun 14.

Parental perceptions of weight status in children: the Gateshead Millennium Study.

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Institute of Health and Society, Human Nutrition Research Centre, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.



To investigate parents' perceptions of weight status in children and to explore parental understanding of and attitudes to childhood overweight.


Questionnaires and focus groups within a longitudinal study.


536 parents of Gateshead Millennium Study children, of which 27 attended six focus groups.


Parents' perception of their child's weight status according to actual weight status as defined by International Obesity Taskforce (IOTF) cutoffs. Focus group outcomes included parental awareness of childhood overweight nationally and parental approaches to identifying overweight children.


The sensitivity of parents recognising if their child was overweight was 0.31. Prevalence of child overweight was underestimated: 7.3% of children were perceived as 'overweight' or 'very overweight' by their parents, 23.7% were identified as overweight or obese using IOTF criteria. 69.3% of parents of overweight or obese children identified their child as being of 'normal' weight. During focus groups parents demonstrated an awareness of childhood overweight being a problem nationally but their understanding of how it is defined was limited. Parents used alternative approaches to objective measures when identifying overweight in children such as visual assessments and comparisons with other children. Such approaches relied heavily on extreme and exceptional cases as a reference point. The apparent lack of relevance of childhood overweight to their child's school or own community along with scepticism towards both media messages and clinical measures commonly emerged as grounds for failing to engage with the issue at a personal level.


Parents' ability to identify when their child was overweight according to standard criteria was limited. Parents did not understand, use or trust clinical measures and used alternative approaches primarily reliant on extreme cases. Such approaches underpinned their reasoning for remaining detached from the issue. This study highlights the need to identify methods of improving parental recognition of and engagement with the problem of childhood overweight.

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