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Child Care Health Dev. 2016 May;42(3):375-81. doi: 10.1111/cch.12335. Epub 2016 Mar 21.

Maternal perception of weight status in first-born Australian toddlers aged 12-16 months--the NOURISH and SAIDI cohorts.

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School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Queensland University of Technology, Centre for Children's Health Research, South Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
Nutrition and Dietetics, School of Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia.
School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.



The preference amongst parents for heavier infants is in contrast to obesity prevention efforts worldwide. Parents are poor at identifying overweight in older children, but few studies have investigated maternal perception of weight status amongst toddlers and none in the Australian setting.


Mothers (n = 290) completed a self-administered questionnaire at child age 12-16 months, defining their child's weight status as underweight, normal weight, somewhat overweight or very overweight. Weight-for-length z-score was derived from measured weight and length, and children categorized as underweight, normal weight, at risk overweight or obese (WHO standards). Objective classification was compared with maternal perception of weight status. Mean weight-for-length z-score was compared across categories of maternal perception using one-way ANOVA. Multinomial logistic regression was used to determine child or maternal characteristics associated with inaccurate weight perception.


Most children (83%) were perceived as normal weight. Twenty nine were described as underweight, although none were. Sixty-six children were at risk of overweight, but 57 of these perceived as normal weight. Of the 14 children who were overweight, only 4 were identified as somewhat overweight by their mother. Compared with mothers who could accurately classify their normal weight child, mothers who were older had higher odds of perceiving their normal weight child as underweight, while mothers with higher body mass index had slightly higher odds of describing their overweight/at risk child as normal weight.


The leaner but healthy weight toddler was perceived as underweight, while only the heaviest children were recognized as overweight. Mothers unable to accurately identify children at risk are unlikely to act to prevent further excess weight gain. Practitioners can lead a shift in attitudes towards weight in infants and young children, promoting routine growth monitoring and adequate but not rapid weight gain.


maternal perception; overweight; toddlers; underweight; weight perception

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