Objectives: To quantify population-level bias in self-reported weight and height as a function of age, sex, and the mode of self-report, and to estimate unbiased trends in national and state level obesity in the USA.
Design: Statistical analysis of repeated cross-sectional health examination surveys (the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey [NHANES]) and health surveys (the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System [BRFSS]) in the USA.
Setting: The 50 states of the USA and the District of Columbia.
Results: In the USA, on average, women underreported their weight, but men did not. Young and middle-aged (<65 years) adult men over-reported their height more than women of the same age. In older age groups, over-reporting of height was similar in men and women. Population-level bias in self-reported weight was larger in telephone interviews (BRFSS) than in-person interviews (NHANES). Except in older adults, height was over-reported more often in telephone interviews than in-person interviews. Using corrected weight and height in the year 2000, Mississippi (30%) and Texas (31%) [corrected] had the highest prevalence of obesity for men; Texas (37%), Louisiana (37%), Mississippi (37%), District of Columbia (37%), Alabama (37%), and South Carolina (36%) for women.
Conclusions: Population-level bias in self-reported weight and height is larger in telephone interviews than in-person interviews. Telephone interviews are a low-cost method for regular, nationally- and sub-nationally representative monitoring of obesity. It is possible to obtain corrected estimates of trends and geographical distributions of obesity from telephone interviews by using systematic analysis which measure weight and height from an independent sample of the same population.