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Parents Unreliable in Reporting Children's Height, Weight

by Matrix Admin | Aug 01, 2011
Overweight, obesity problems may be overlooked

BALTIMORE – Parents often misperceive their children’s height and weight, according to research presented today at the American College of Sports Medicine’s 57th Annual Meeting in Baltimore. One in five obese children—21 percent—would not be identified as obese when using parent-reported data.

“Parents tend to overestimate boys’ height and underestimate girls’ height,” said Daniel O’Connor, Ph.D., coauthor of the study. He and Joseph Gugenheim, M.D., compared the measured height and weight of 1,430 patients at an orthopedic clinic with the values their parents reported.

“The error was significantly greater when a parent reported the height of a child of the opposite sex,” O’Connor said. The study investigated correlations between magnitude of error of parent-reported data with gender, race/ethnicity, child’s age, and age-specific body mass index (BMI). Also noted was the parents’ tendency to round off numbers in making estimates.

Almost half of the parents underestimated their child’s weight, and errors in reporting weight tended to be larger for girls and increase with age. Weight errors were also more significant in children who were overweight or obese. Ethnicity also played a role.

“The largest discrepancies were among African-American parents,” Gugenheim said. “Hispanics also tended to mis-report their children’s weight in this study.” Children in the study ranged from 2 years to 17 years in age.

The lesson, according to O’Connor and Gugenheim, is that those who work with young patients should take parent’s estimates of their children’s height and weight with a grain of salt.

“Trust, but verify,” O’Connor recommended. “When it counts—as in diagnosing obesity or calculating dosages—it’s best to measure carefully.” Giving parents the benefit of the doubt, Gugenheim noted that even a carefully observant parent can underestimate the height or weight of a fast-growing child.

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The conclusions outlined in this news release are those of the researchers only, and should not be construed as an official statement of the American College of Sports Medicine.

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