Underestimation of Adolescent Obesity

Understanding adolescent overweight and obesity is important to surveillance and prevention efforts.

The Issue:

Inhibiting accurate obesity prevalence estimates is potential bias related to nonresponse in self-reported height and weight. This study assessed the implications of selective nonresponse in self-reported height and weight on adolescent obesity estimates.

 

Key Findings:

  • Self-reported height and weight of adolescents underestimates obesity prevalence by even larger amounts than existing validity studies indicate.
  • Younger adolescents were both less likely to report height and weight and less likely to estimate height and weight correctly as compared to older adolescents.
  • Obesity prevalence was greater among younger adolescents who did not report height and weight as compared to those who did (40% versus 30%).
  • Self-reported height and weight resulted in underestimated adolescent obesity of as much as 31 percent overall.

 

Conclusion:

These findings indicate that selective nonresponse for self-reported height and weight should be considered in measuring and understanding adolescent obesity. Additionally, these results should be replicated with national data to confirm findings.

 

About the Study:

A sample of 613 adolescents from the 2006-2008 Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey was used. This longitudinal study of Los Angeles County households oversamples poor neighborhoods. The sample included 216 younger adolescents aged 12-13 years and 397 older adolescents aged 14-17 years. The study compared obesity prevalence estimates based on self-report; measured height and weight for those who did report; and measured height and weight for those who did not report.

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Alison Buttenheim, an alumna of the RWJF Health & Society Scholars program, says "The results we published make me ask: ‘What can we do so fewer kids will fail to answer those questions, and fewer will answer with such huge error?’” Read the story

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