Parental perceptions of their children’s weight play an important role in obesity prevention and treatment. The objective of this study was to determine the proportion of parents worldwide who underestimate their children’s weight and moderators of such misperceptions.
Original studies published to January 2013 were chosen through literature searches in PUBMED, PSYCHINFO, and CINAHL databases. References of retrieved articles were also searched for relevant studies. Studies were published in English and assessed parental perceptions of children’s weight and then compared perceptions to recognized standards for defining overweight based on anthropometric measures. Data were extracted on study-level constructs, child- and parent-characteristics, procedural characteristics, and parental underestimates separately for normal-weight and overweight/obese samples. Pooled effect sizes were calculated using random-effects models and adjusted for publication bias. Moderators were explored using mixed-effect models.
A total of 69 articles (representing 78 samples; n = 15 791) were included in the overweight/obese meta-analysis. Adjusted effect sizes revealed that 50.7% (95% confidence interval 31.1%–70.2%) of parents underestimate their overweight/obese children’s weight. Significant moderators of this effect included child’s age and BMI. A total of 52 articles (representing 59 samples; n = 64 895) were included in the normal-weight meta-analysis. Pooled effect sizes indicated that 14.3% (95% confidence interval 11.7%–17.4%) of parents underestimate their children’s normal-weight status. Significant moderators of this effect included child gender, parent weight, and the method (visual versus nonvisual) in which perception was assessed.
Half of parents underestimated their children’s overweight/obese status and a significant minority underestimated children’s normal weight. Pediatricians are well positioned to make efforts to remedy parental underestimates and promote adoption of healthy habits.