The Health Survey for England 2010 published its findings today with chapters covering a wide range of health issues including well-being, sexual health and respiratory conditions. In particular, a chapter about children’s overweight and obesity highlighted some interesting findings around children’s perceptions of their own weight.
The majority of 8-15 year olds thought that they were about the right weight; 61% of boys and 53% of girls. Smaller numbers described themselves as too heavy (9% of boys and 15% of girls) or too light (8% of boys and 4% of girls), while around a quarter were not sure.
There were differences between boys and girls of different ages. Boys and girls aged 8-10 were just as likely to think themselves too heavy, however older girls aged 11-15 were much more likely than older boys to think this. Similarly, more older boys felt that they were about the right weight than younger boys, but this pattern was reversed in girls, with fewer older girls than younger girls thinking this. This suggests that perceptions of weight change in different ways for boys and girls as they get older.
Perhaps more importantly, there appears to be some disparity between these perceptions and actual weight. Around a quarter of boys and a fifth of girls who thought they were about the right weight were actually overweight or obese. And in total, around half of boys and a third of girls who were overweight or obese thought themselves to be about the right weight. Looking at those children who were not sure about whether they were the right weight or not, around 2 in 5 boys and 1 in 3 girls were in fact either overweight or obese. This suggests either a lack of knowledge or awareness of what signifies a weight problem amongst some boys and girls.
Childhood overweight and obesity is a sensitive issue - the press has shown that many parents do not like to be told that their child is overweight or obese. However, there is much evidence to suggest that childhood overweight and obesity is linked to long-term and immediate physiological and psychological health risks. With this is mind childhood obesity should be high on the agenda and helping people to understand what a healthy weight is might be the first step to take in tackling this issue.
In the future the Health Survey for England will also look into parental perceptions of their child’s weight and it will be interesting to see how this relates to a child’s own perception.