Do mothers accurately identify their child’s overweight/obesity status during early childhood? Evidence from a nationally representative cohort study

Type Article

Journal Article


M. Queally; E. Doherty; K. Matvienko-Sikar; E. Toomey; J. Cullinan; J. M. Harrington; P. M. Kearney

Year of publication



Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act








BACKGROUND: Maternal recognition of overweight/obesity during early childhood is a key determinant in achieving healthy weight status in children. The aim of this study is to 1) investigate maternal perceptions of their child weight, focusing on whether or not mothers accurately identify if their child is overweight or obese at three years old and five years old; 2) identify the factors influencing maternal misperceptions regarding their child's weight at three years old and five years old, 3) ascertain if a failure to recognize overweight/obesity at three years old is associated with the likelihood of doing so at five years old. METHODS: Using two waves of the longitudinal Growing Up in Ireland study data regarding child, maternal, and household characteristics as well as healthcare access and utilization variables were obtained for mothers when their children are three and five years old respectively. Multivariate logistic analysis was used to examine the factors associated with mothers inaccurately perceiving their child to be of normal weight status when the child is in fact either clinically overweight or obese. RESULTS: In wave 2, 22% of mothers failed to accurately identify their child to be overweight or obese. This inaccuracy decreased to 18% in wave 3. A failure of mothers to identify their child's overweight/obesity was more likely to occur if the child was a girl (OR: 1.25) (OR: 1.37), had a higher birth weight (OR:1.00), if the mother was obese (OR: 1.50), (OR: 1.72) or working (OR:1.25) (OR:1.16) in wave 2 and wave 3, respectively. Other factors affecting the odds of misperceiving child's weight include gestation age, income and urban living. CONCLUSION: These findings suggest that mothers of overweight or obese three and five year olds show poor awareness of their child's weight status. Both child and mother characteristics play a role in influencing this awareness. Mothers unable to accurately identify their child's overweight or obesity status at three years old are likely to do again when the child is five years old. This study highlights the need for increased support to help improve mothers' understanding of healthy body size in preschool aged children.