Overweight but unseen: a review of the underestimation of weight status and a visual normalization theory
- E. Robinson
- Obesity reviews : an official journal of the…
BACKGROUND AND AIMS This analysis investigates the poorly-known effect of local prevalence of childhood obesity on mothers' perception of their children's weight status. METHODS AND RESULTS In 2008, a national nutritional survey of children attending the third grade of elementary school was conducted in Italy. Children were measured and classified as underweight, normal weight, overweight and obese, using the International Obesity Task Force cut-offs for body mass index (BMI). A parental questionnaire included parental perception of their child's weight status (underweight, normal, a little overweight and a lot overweight). Regions were classified by childhood obesity prevalence (<8%, 8-12%, ≥13%). The association between incorrect maternal perception and regional obesity prevalence, and maternal and child characteristics were examined using bivariate and logistic regression analyses. Complete data were available for 37 590 children, of whom 24% were overweight and 12% obese. Mothers correctly identified the status of 84% of normal weight, 52% of overweight and 14% of obese children. Among overweight children, factors associated with underestimation of the child's weight included lower maternal education (adjusted odds ratio, aOR, 1.9; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.6-2.4), residence in a high-obesity region (aOR 2.2; 95% CI 1.9-2.6), male gender (aOR 1.4; 95% CI 1.2-1.6) and child's BMI. CONCLUSION Higher regional obesity prevalence is associated with lower maternal perception, suggesting that what is common has a greater likelihood of being perceived as normal. As perception is a first step to change, it may be harder to intervene in areas with high-obesity prevalence where intervention is most urgent.