December 2, 2009 / 6:43 PM / 10 years ago

Heavier kids tend to underestimate their size

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Children are generally pretty good at estimating their true body size but heavier kids, and particularly girls, seem more prone to underestimating their body size, research from the UK suggests.

Three investigators at University College, London asked 205 boys and 194 girls, 7 to 14 years old, to match their body size to one of seven numbered images of similarly aged boys and girls. The images ranged in body size from very thin to very heavy. They also asked the youngsters privately to describe their body size, giving them choices of too thin, just right, or too fat.

Actual measurements showed that 16 percent of the kids were underweight, just over 13 percent were overweight, 5 percent were obese, and the rest were at a healthy weight.

The investigators report that both boys and girls seemed to generally perceive their actual body size, but with consistent biases.

For example, underweight kids tended to identify a figure heavier than their own, while heavier children “showed a striking tendency toward underestimation of size,” Jane Wardle and colleagues report in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Among overweight and obese boys and girls, the vast majority matched themselves to a figure smaller than their own.

And a little more than half of the overweight and obese kids verbally described themselves as “just right” in body size.

As overweight and obesity rates rise, how youngsters perceive their body size has garnered more attention, the investigators note. Misperceptions of body size could influence whether overweight and obese individuals recognize the personal relevance of weight management recommendations, they warn.

SOURCE: Archives of Disease in Childhood, December 2009

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