Background: The Body Mass Index (BMI) based on self-reported height and weight ("self-reported BMI") in epidemiologic studies is subject to measurement error. However, because of the ease and efficiency in gathering height and weight information through interviews, it remains important to assess the extent of error present in self-reported BMI measures and to explore possible adjustment factors as well as valid uses of such self-reported measures.
Methods: Using the combined 2001-2006 data from the continuous National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, discrepancies between BMI measures based on self-reported and physical height and weight measures are estimated and socio-demographic predictors of such discrepancies are identified. Employing adjustments derived from the socio-demographic predictors, the self-reported measures of height and weight in the 2001-2006 National Health Interview Survey are used for population estimates of overweight & obesity as well as the prediction of health risks associated with large BMI values. The analysis relies on two-way frequency tables as well as linear and logistic regression models. All point and variance estimates take into account the complex survey design of the studies involved.
Results: Self-reported BMI values tend to overestimate measured BMI values at the low end of the BMI scale (< 22) and underestimate BMI values at the high end, particularly at values > 28. The discrepancies also vary systematically with age (younger and older respondents underestimate their BMI more than respondents aged 42-55), gender and the ethnic/racial background of the respondents. BMI scores, adjusted for socio-demographic characteristics of the respondents, tend to narrow, but do not eliminate misclassification of obese people as merely overweight, but health risk estimates associated with variations in BMI values are virtually the same, whether based on self-report or measured BMI values.
Conclusion: BMI values based on self-reported height and weight, if corrected for biases associated with socio-demographic characteristics of the survey respondents, can be used to estimate health risks associated with variations in BMI, particularly when using parametric prediction models.