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J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2014 Mar;58(3):368-75. doi: 10.1097/MPG.0000000000000231.

Inaccurate weight perception is associated with extreme weight-management practices in U.S. high school students.

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*Department of Epidemiology and Public Health †Department of Pediatrics, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD.



The objective of the present study was to examine whether adolescents' weight perception accuracy (WPA) was associated with extreme weight-management practices (EWPs) in differing body mass index (BMI) categories.


WPA, overassessment, and underassessment were determined by comparing self-reported BMI and weight perception among U.S. high school students in the 2009 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey. BMI was classified as follows: underweight (<5th percentile), healthy weight (5th to <85th), overweight (≥85th to <95th), and obese (≥95th). WPA was considered inaccurate if BMI and weight perception were discordant. Overassessors thought they were heavier than they were (among underweight/healthy groups); underassessors thought they were lighter than they were (among healthy/overweight/obese groups). EWPs included ≥1 of fasting, use of diet pills, or purging/laxative use. Logit models were fitted for different BMI sex strata.


In the final sample of 14,722 US high school students with complete data, 20.2%, 85.7%, 5.8%, and 80.9% of those who were underweight, healthy weight, overweight, and obese, inaccurately assessed their weight, respectively. In turn, 11.4% and 17.6% of accurate and inaccurate assessors engaged in EWPs, respectively. After adjustment, underweight girls who overassessed their weight had 12.6 times higher odds of EWPs (95% confidence interval 3.4-46.6). Moreover, there were elevated odds of EWPs among healthy weight students who overassessed their weight.


Overassessing healthy weight students and underweight girls had higher odds of ≥1 EWPs, likely related to an unhealthy desire to lose weight. The present study demonstrates a need to further educate clinicians on WPA and its relation to EWPs even among those of healthy weight who may be seen as not at risk.

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