Skip to Main Content

Yale study: Some parents underestimate their children's weight

March 22, 2016

A new article by two Yale researchers suggests some parents believe their children’s weight is lighter than it actually is, a misperception with important implications for clinical prevention and treatment of childhood obesity.

Janet A. Lydecker, PhD, postdoctoral associate in psychiatry, and Carlos M. Grilo, PhD, professor of psychiatry and of psychology, and director of the Yale Program for Obesity Weight and Eating Research, surveyed 1,007 parents of children 5 to 15 years old. Parents were asked to give opinions about their own weight and eating, and that of their children.

The results revealed parents were significantly less likely to be accurate about their child’s obesity than their own obesity. In the survey, 49 percent of parents correctly labeled their child’s weight-status, while 45.2 percent underestimated it. About themselves, 62.8 percent correctly labeled their own weight-status, while 30.1 percent underestimated it.

The study, published in the research journal Obesity, also found that perceived child weight was related to disordered eating, body image concerns, and parent feeding practices more so than the child’s or parent’s actual weight, Lydecker said.

“I have a particular interest in the role parents play in childhood eating disorders and obesity, including parents’ perceptions of eating- and weight-related problems and their corresponding parenting practices,” she said. “Parents have considerable influence on their children’s health, and have—for the overwhelming majority—good intentions, which makes them key agents of change in the prevention and treatment of childhood weight and eating disorders.”

According to the paper, results of the study “suggest a dual need to improve parent accuracy perceiving children’s overweight/obesity and to guide parent responses to perceived overweight/obesity.”

The study will be presented as a poster at the Society for Behavioral Medicine annual meeting March 30 in Washington, DC.

Submitted by Christopher Gardner on March 22, 2016