Mothers' perceptions of child weight status and the subsequent weight gain of their children: a population based longitudinal study

K N Parkinson, J J Reilly, L Basterfield, J Reilly, X Janssen, A R Jones, L R Cutler, A Le Couteur, A J Adamson

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BACKGROUND: There is a plethora of cross sectional work on maternal perceptions of child weight status showing that mothers typically do not classify their overweight child as being overweight according to commonly used clinical criteria. Awareness of overweight in their child is regarded as an important prerequisite for mothers to initiate appropriate action. The gap in the literature is determining whether, if mothers do classify their overweight child's weight status correctly, this is associated with a positive outcome for the child's body mass index (BMI) at a later stage.

OBJECTIVE: To explore longitudinal perceptions of child weight status from mothers of a contemporary population-based birth cohort (Gateshead Millennium Study) and relationships of these perceptions with future child weight gain.

METHODS: Data collected in the same cohort at 7, 12 and 15 years of age: mothers' responses to two items concerning their child's body size; child's and mother's BMI; pubertal maturation; demographic information.

RESULTS: Mothers' perceptions of whether their child was overweight did not change markedly over time. Child BMI was the only significant predictor of mothers' classification of overweight status, and it was only at the extreme end of the overweight range and in the obese range that mothers reliably described their child as overweight. Even when mothers did appropriately classify their child as overweight at an earlier stage, this was not related to relatively lower child BMI a few years later.

CONCLUSIONS: Mothers tend to classify their child as overweight in only more extreme cases. It is an important finding that no beneficial impact was shown on later child BMI in overweight children whose mothers classified their child's weight status as overweight at an earlier stage.International Journal of Obesity accepted article preview online, 25 January 2017. doi:10.1038/ijo.2017.20.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Obesity
Early online date25 Jan 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Jan 2017


  • epidemiologic studies
  • overweight
  • parental perception
  • child
  • adolescent
  • maternal
  • body mass index
  • weight gain
  • children

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