New government data suggest a nonmedical cause of America’s childhood obesity crisis: denial.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 percent of obese boys and 36 percent of obese girls think their weight is “about right.” Among kids and teens who were merely overweight, 81 percent of boys and 71 percent of girls also judged their weight to be “about right.”
Those figures are based on interviews with American children who were between the ages of 8 and 15 during the years 2005 through 2012. As part of the CDC’s ongoing National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey, the children had their height and weight measured and they answered questions from interviewers. Among them: “Do you consider yourself now to be fat or overweight, too thin or about the right weight?”
Overall, 30.2 percent of the kids gave an answer that wasn’t in line with their actual body mass index, according to the report from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. That corresponds to about 9.1 million American kids who have the wrong idea about their weight status.
Roughly 20 percent of these children had a healthy weight but mistakenly thought they were either too thin or too fat. But the overwhelming majority was low-balling their weight.
Boys were more likely than girls to think their extra pounds were normal, the CDC researchers found.
Children between the ages of 8 and 11 were more likely to get their weight status wrong (33 percent) than kids between the ages of 12 and 15 (27 percent). Also, the higher a child’s family income, the less likely he or she was to have the wrong idea about his or her body weight.
All of this matters because overweight and obese kids aren’t likely to slim down if they think their weight is just fine. Kids who are overweight or obese are likely to carry those extra pounds with them into adulthood, leading to a host of health problems that add up to $19,000 in extra medical costs over a lifetime.
“Understanding the prevalence of weight status misperception among U.S. children and adolescents may help inform public health interventions,” the CDC researchers wrote.
By definition almost all kids – those between the 5th percentile to just under the 85th percentile – are considered to have a “healthy weight.” Only kids with a BMI that puts them at or above the 85th percentile to just under the 95th percentile are officially “overweight,” and those at or above the 95th percentile are classified as “obese.” In addition, kids below the 5th percentile are considered “underweight.”
Researchers documented a similar problem in adults in 2010, though they called it “body size misperception” in a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.