Validity of self-reported weight, height, and body mass index among university students in Thailand: Implications for population studies of obesity in developing countries

Popul Health Metr. 2009 Sep 25;7:15. doi: 10.1186/1478-7954-7-15.


Background: Large-scale epidemiological studies commonly use self-reported weights and heights to determine weight status. Validity of such self-reported data has been assessed primarily in Western populations in developed countries, although its use is widespread in developing countries. We examine the validity of obesity based on self-reported data in an Asian developing country, and derive improved obesity prevalence estimates using the "reduced BMI threshold" method.

Methods: Self-reported and measured heights and weights were obtained from 741 students attending an open university in Thailand (mean age 34 years). Receiver operator characteristic techniques were applied to derive "reduced BMI thresholds."

Results: Height was over-reported by a mean of 1.54 cm (SD 2.23) in men and 1.33 cm (1.84) in women. Weight was under-reported by 0.93 kg (3.47) in men and 0.62 kg (2.14) in women. Sensitivity and specificity for determining obesity (Thai BMI threshold 25 kg/m2) using self-reported data were 74.2% and 97.3%, respectively, for men and 71.9% and 100% for women. For men, reducing the BMI threshold to 24.5 kg/m2 increased the estimated obesity prevalence based on self-reports from 29.1% to 33.8% (true prevalence was 36.9%). For women, using a BMI threshold of 24.4 kg/m2, the improvement was from 12.0% to 15.9% (true prevalence 16.7%).

Conclusion: Young educated Thais under-report weight and over-report height in ways similar to their counterparts in developed countries. Simple adjustments to BMI thresholds will overcome these reporting biases for estimation of obesity prevalence. Our study suggests that self-reported weights and heights can provide economical and valid measures of weight status in high school-educated populations in developing countries.