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.



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.