Many overweight youngsters underestimate weight

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - In a study of urban-living mostly African American adolescents, nearly 40 percent were overweight or obese, and 27 percent of these youngsters underestimated their weight, researchers report.

Of the 448 students in grades 5 to 8, more than 62 percent of the overweight boys and nearly 31 percent of the overweight girls listed their weight as normal or underweight, Dr. Youfa Wang, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and colleagues found. The participants attended one of four Chicago Public Schools.

Compared with boys and girls not trying to lose weight, those who said they were trying to lose weight were not eating a healthier diet or increasing their physical activities, Wang and colleagues report in BMC Public Health, a journal published by BioMed Central.

Wang’s team assessed the association between actual and perceived body weight, body dissatisfaction, and intended weight control among a subset of 196 boys and 252 girls who were an average of nearly 12 years old.

Measurements of body mass index - the ratio of height to weight -- showed that 40 percent of these students were overweight or obese. As noted, 27 percent of these youngsters (36 percent of the boys and 21 percent of the girls) underestimated their weight.

Still, the researchers found about 24 percent of the study group, and twice as many girls as boys, indicated dissatisfaction with their weight.

Forty-three percent of the students they were trying to lose weight. Yet, again Wang’s group did not find a greater vegetable and fruit consumption or level of physical activity this group compared with those not trying to lose weight.

“In fact,” Wang and colleagues report, “boys who reported trying to lose weight still spent more time watching TV than those who did not.”

These findings emphasize the need for improved guidance for youngsters trying to lose weight.

Data showing gender differences in weight perception and common miscalculation of body weight, also indicate these children need a better understanding of what a healthy body weight is, Wang and colleagues note.

SOURCE: BMC Public Health, June 12, 2009.