Social inequality and age-specific gender differences in overweight and perception of overweight among Swedish children and adolescents: a cross-sectional study

BMC Public Health. 2015 Jul 9;15:628. doi: 10.1186/s12889-015-1985-x.


Background: Overweight among children and adolescents related to social inequality, as well as age and gender differences, may contribute to poor self-image, thereby raising important public health concerns. This study explores social inequality in relation to overweight and perception of overweight among 263 boys and girls, age 7 to 17, in Växjö, Sweden.

Methods: Data were obtained through a questionnaire and from physical measurements of height, weight and waist circumference [WC]. To assess social, age and gender differences in relation to overweight, the independent sample t- and chi-square tests were used, while logistic regression modeling was used to study determinants for perception of overweight.

Results: Social inequality and gender differences as they relate to high ISO-BMI [Body Mass Index for children] and WC were associated with low maternal socioeconomic status [SES] among boys < 13 years [mean age = 10.4; n = 65] and with low paternal education level among boys ≥ 13 years [mean age = 15.0; n = 39] [p < 0.05]. One suggested explanation for this finding is maternal impact on boys during childhood and the influence of the father as a role model for adolescent boys. The only association found among girls was between high ISO-BMI in girls ≥ 13 years [mean age = 15.0; n = 74] and low paternal occupational status. Concerning perception of overweight, age and gender differences were found, but social inequality was not the case. Among boys and girls < 13 years, perception of overweight increased only when overweight was actually present according to BMI or WC [p < 0.01]. Girls ≥ 13 years [mean age = 15.0] were more likely to unrealistically perceive themselves as overweight or "too fat," despite factual measurements to the contrary, than boys [p < 0.05] and girls < 13 years [mean age = 10.4; n = 83] [p < 0.001].

Conclusions: The association between social inequality and overweight in adolescence in this study is age- and gender-specific. Gender differences, especially in perception of overweight, tend to increase with age, indicating that adolescence is a crucial period. When planning interventions to prevent overweight and obesity among children and adolescents, parental SES as well as age and gender-specific differences in social norms and perception of body weight status should be taken into account.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Weight
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Employment
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Overweight / epidemiology*
  • Overweight / psychology*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Prevalence
  • Self Concept
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • Waist Circumference