Parents of children who are overweight often fail to accurately identify their child’s weight status. Although these misperceptions are presumed to be a major public health concern, little research has examined whether parental perceptions of child weight status are protective against weight gain during childhood. Our objective was to examine whether parental perceptions of child weight status are associated with weight gain across childhood.
Data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children were used to assess parental perceptions of child weight status and to examine changes in researcher measured child BMI z scores across childhood, from 4 to 13 years old. Participants included 3557 Australian children and their parents.
Children whose parents perceived their weight as being “overweight,” as opposed to “about the right weight,” gained more weight (increase in BMI z score) from baseline to follow-up in all analyses. This finding did not depend on the actual weight of the child; the association between perceiving one’s child as being overweight and future weight gain was similar among children whose parents accurately and inaccurately believed their child was overweight.
Contrary to popular belief, parental identification of child overweight is not protective against further weight gain. Rather, it is associated with more weight gain across childhood. Further research is needed to understand how parental perceptions of child weight may counterintuitively contribute to obesity.