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Mothers' judgements about their child's weight: distinguishing facts from values

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Kathryn Parkinson, Dr Angela Jones, Professor Ashley AdamsonORCiD


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Background Mothers' responses to questionnaire items assessing their child's weight status typically do not correspond to conventional clinical classifications based on body mass index (BMI). From this observation health professionals infer that mothers do not recognize overweight in their child. But the questions used have generally confounded factual judgements with values, so it is not clear whether the mothers are making factual errors, or differ from professionals in their values. Methods Cross-sectional study of population-based birth cohort at 6-8 years and their mothers (n = 540). An objective BMI matching task was used to determine the accuracy of mothers' recognition of their child's weight. Mothers matched their child to sex-and age-specific images of children of known BMI ranging from very thin to obese, and chose a descriptor of their child's weight of the kind used in previous research. Results Mothers tended to underestimate their child's BMI on the matching task. Matching errors significantly predicted mothers' description of their child's weight; those who overestimated their child's BMI on the matching task were more likely to say their child was overweight, while those who underestimated it were less likely to, independently of their child's actual BMI. Conclusions Educational programmes aimed at parents of young primary school children need to address separately the factual and the evaluative components of their assessment of child weight.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Parkinson KN, Drewett RF, Jones AR, Adamson AJ, The Gateshead Millennium Study Core Team

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Child: Care Health and Development

Year: 2013

Volume: 39

Issue: 5

Pages: 722-727

Print publication date: 08/10/2013

ISSN (print): 0305-1862

ISSN (electronic): 1365-2214

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell


DOI: 10.1111/cch.12000


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Funder referenceFunder name
British Heart Foundation
Cancer Research UK
Research and Development Office for the Northern Ireland Health and Social Services
Sport Aiding Research in Kids (SPARKS)
Chief Scientist Office, Scottish Government Health Directorates
Department of Health
Diabetes UK
Economic and Social Research Council
Food Standards Agency
Gateshead Education Authority
Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust
Gateshead NHS Trust RD
Henry Smith Charity
Medical Research Council
Northern and Yorkshire NHS RD
Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust
Welsh Assembly Government
World Cancer Research Fund
G0501306National Prevention Research Initiative