Inaccurate parental perception of their child’s weight status is commonly reported in Western countries. It is unclear whether similar misperception exists in Asian populations. This study aimed to evaluate the ability of Singaporean mothers to accurately describe their three-year-old child’s weight status verbally and visually.
At three years post-delivery, weight and height of the children were measured. Body mass index (BMI) was calculated and converted into actual weight status using International Obesity Task Force criteria. The mothers were blinded to their child’s measurements and asked to verbally and visually describe what they perceived was their child’s actual weight status. Agreement between actual and described weight status was assessed using Cohen’s Kappa statistic (κ).
Of 1237 recruited participants, 66.4% (n = 821) with complete data on mothers’ verbal and visual perceptions and children’s anthropometric measurements were analysed. Nearly thirty percent of the mothers were unable to describe their child’s weight status accurately. In verbal description, 17.9% under-estimated and 11.8% over-estimated their child’s weight status. In visual description, 10.4% under-estimated and 19.6% over-estimated their child’s weight status. Many mothers of underweight children over-estimated (verbal 51.6%; visual 88.8%), and many mothers of overweight and obese children under-estimated (verbal 82.6%; visual 73.9%), their child’s weight status. In contrast, significantly fewer mothers of normal-weight children were inaccurate (verbal 16.8%; visual 8.8%). Birth order (p<0.001), maternal (p = 0.004) and child’s weight status (p<0.001) were associated with consistently inaccurate verbal and visual descriptions.
Singaporean mothers, especially those of underweight and overweight children, may not be able to perceive their young child’s weight status accurately. To facilitate prevention of childhood obesity, educating parents and caregivers about their child’s weight status is needed.