The study included 16 220 children aged 2–9 years and their parents. Parents responded to three questions:
(1) their perception of their child’s weight status,
(2) how they perceived their child’s health
(3) and if they were concerned that their child could develop underweight or overweight. All children in the study were weighed and measured.
The results showed that every second parent of a child with overweight in Northern and Central Europe perceived their child as normal weight. The corresponding figure in Southern Europe was three quarters. More than 1 000 children in the study had obesity. These children´s parents perceived their children as only “slightly too overweight” between 57 to 85 percent.
About 300 children in the study had pronounced underweight. Parents of these children answered between 30 to 50 percent that they perceived their children as normal weight and the others responded
that they perceived their children as only “slightly too underweight”.
Parents of children with normal weight assessed their children correctly to about 80% and the others in the group perceived their children as underweight.
Parents generally perceived their children as healthy, no matter the weight category they belonged to. An unexpected result was that a large group of parents were concerned that their children could develop underweight. This concern was greater among parents in Southern Europe, in about 50 percent compared with about 3 to 32 percent in Northern and Central Europe. It was even so that 20 percent of the parents of children with obesity were concerned that their children could develop underweight.
That so many parents perceive their child’s weight status other than the child’s accurate weight category, may be of importance for the preventive work. It is unlikely that parents take initiative to lifestyle changes or take contact with the primary health care if they perceive their child as being normal weight.
Parents therefore need to obtain objective information about their child’s BMI- curve when the child is weighed and measured at child health care centers and at the school health care.
To inform parents about their child’s BMI, supplemented with a health dialogue about habits and lifestyle, is an example of preventive public health practice.