Objective: To investigate African-American and Hispanic mothers' perceptions of their children's body size using a scale with child figure silhouettes and compare those perceptions with their children's actual body mass index.
Methods: A set of child figure silhouettes was developed depicting 4 and 5 year-old African-American and Hispanic children. Body mass index was systematically estimated for each child figure on the set of silhouettes. Minority mothers with children enrolled in ten Head Start centers (n=192) were interviewed using the silhouettes, and height and weight measurements were taken on their children. Head Start, a comprehensive child development program that serves children aged 3 to 5 years old, was chosen because of the large percentage of minorities, the low-income status of the families, and the age of the children.
Results: Significant differences were found between mothers' perceptions of their children's body size and the actual body size of the children. On average, mothers perceived their children to be thinner than their actual size. Furthermore, of those mothers with children at risk for overweight or overweight, two-thirds were either satisfied with their children's existing body size or wanted their children to be heavier. However, half of the mothers of children above the 95th percentile for BMI wanted their children to be thinner.
Conclusions: These data suggest that minority mothers' perceptions of their children's body size may not be consistently biased in one direction. Despite the possible social norm for a larger body size among low-income minorities, some mothers of overweight minority children do perceive their children to be too heavy when they reach a certain size.