Does maternal concern about children's weight affect children's body size perception at age of 6.5?-A community-based study

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Though overweight is often established by school entry, not all mothers of such children report weight concerns. Enhancing concern might assist lifestyle change, but could lead to child body dissatisfaction. We investigated (i) perceived/desired body size and body dissatisfaction in mothers and their 6.5-year-old children, and (ii) the impact of earlier maternal concern about overweight on children's body mass index (BMI) status and body dissatisfaction.


Prospective community study.


Melbourne, Australia.


317 mother-child dyads.

Main exposures:

Child and maternal BMI (kg m −2) at 4.0 and 6.5 years; maternal concern about child overweight at 4.0 years.

Outcome measures:

Paired perceived and desired body size on 7-point figural rating scales self-reported by mothers and children, and reported by mothers regarding children; dissatisfaction ('desired' minus 'perceived') score.


For all three actual BMI perceived size pairings (mother self-report, mother's report on child and child self-report), BMI correlated with perceived body size (r = 0.82 (mother self-report); r = 0.65 (mother reporting on child); r = 0.22 (child self- report); all P <0.001). Similarly, all three dissatisfaction scores were greater with increasing BMI status. Children's own dissatisfaction scores correlated with their actual BMI, but were not related to mothers' own body dissatisfaction scores or with mothers' dissatisfaction with children's body size. Maternal concern about overweight at the age of 4 years was not associated with BMI change, or child body dissatisfaction by the age of 6.5. Most mothers of overweight and obese children (88 and 90%, respectively) regarded their child as the middle figure (that is, 4) or thinner.


Despite low rates of recognition of child overweight, maternal perceptions of the child's body correlated strongly with the child's actual BMI. Maternal concerns about child BMI did not appear to impact on child BMI change or child body dissatisfaction.

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