Awareness of body weight by mothers and their children: repeated measures in a single cohort (EarlyBird 64)

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Mothers often do not realize when their child is overweight. We aimed to compare mothers' perceptions of children's weight before and during puberty, and to explore factors at 7 years predicting recognition of overweight at 16 years.


Mothers of 237 children (136 boys) from the EarlyBird study estimated their own weight category and that of their child aged 7 years and 16 years. The children estimated their own weight category at 16 years. Annual measures: body mass index standard deviation score (BMIsds), per cent fat, physical activity. Pubertal development assessed by age at peak height velocity (APHV). Maternal measures: BMI, education, socio-economic status.


At 7 years 21% of girls and 16% of boys were overweight or obese, rising to 27% and 22% respectively at 16 years. The accuracy of the mother's perception of her child's weight category improved from 44% at 7 years to 74% at 16 years, but they were less able to judge overweight in sons than daughters. The mothers' level of concern about overweight was greater for girls than boys, and increased for girls (52% mothers of overweight/obese girls were worried at 7 years, 62% at 16 years), but remained static in the boys (42% vs. 39%). Over 80% of the youngsters realized when they were overweight, but 25% normal-weight girls also classed themselves as overweight. Only BMI predicted a mother's ability to correctly perceive her child's weight. Neither her awareness, nor concern, about the child's weight at 7 years had any impact on the trajectory of the child's BMI from 7 years to 16 years.


Parents are central to any successful weight reduction programme in their children, but will not engage while they remain ignorant of the problem. Crucially, any concern mothers may have about their child's excess weight at 7 years appears to have no impact on subsequent weight change.

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