Objective: Obesity prevention in childhood is important. However, changing children's lifestyle behaviors to reduce overweight is a substantial challenge. Accurately perceiving oneself as overweight/obese has been linked to greater motivation to change lifestyle behaviors. Children and adolescents may be less likely to perceive themselves as overweight/obese if they are exposed to overweight/obese people in their immediate environments. This study examined whether youth who are exposed to overweight parents and schoolmates were more likely to misperceive their own weight status.
Design: The Quebec Child and Adolescent Health and Social Survey was a provincially representative, school-based survey of children and adolescents conducted between January and May 1999.
Subjects: 3665 children and adolescents (age 9, n=1267; age 13, n=1186; age 16, n=1212) from 178 schools. Mean body mass index (BMI) was 17.5, 20.6 and 22.2 kg/m(2), respectively.
Measurements: The misperception score was calculated as the standardized difference between self-perception of weight status (Stunkard Body Rating Scale) and actual BMI (from measured height and weight). Exposure to obesity was based on parent and schoolmate BMI.
Results: Overweight and obese youth were significantly more likely to misperceive their weight compared with non-overweight youth (P<0.001). Multilevel modeling indicated that greater parent and schoolmate BMI were significantly associated with greater misperception (underestimation) of weight status among children and adolescents.
Conclusion: Children and adolescents who live in environments in which people they see on a daily basis, such as parents and schoolmates, are overweight/obese may develop inaccurate perceptions of what constitutes appropriate weight status. Targeting misperception may facilitate the adoption of healthy lifestyle behaviors and improve the effectiveness of obesity prevention interventions.