Maternal concern and perceptions of overweight in Australian preschool-aged children

Michele W-C Campbell, Joanne Williams, Anne Hampton and Melissa Wake
Med J Aust 2006; 184 (6): 274-277.


Objective: To assess maternal concern about overweight in Australian preschool-aged children and factors predicting maternal concern about children’s current and future weight status.

Design: Cross-sectional survey of child’s body mass index and parent questionnaire.


Participants: A community-based cohort of 324 4-year-old children and their parents.

Main outcome measures: Mothers’ reports of concern about the child’s current and future weight status, and perceptions of the child’s weight, diet and activity relative to their peers were compared with the child’s measured weight status, and parent and child characteristics.

Results: The prevalence of overweight or obesity was 19%, but only 5% of mothers indicated concern about their child being currently overweight, while 16% worried their child would become overweight. Over 70% of mothers of overweight children saw them as being of similar weight to their peers. Most mothers saw their children as being equally or more active than other children and having a diet at least as healthy as their peers. Overweight daughters were more likely to elicit maternal concern about current weight than overweight sons (relative risk, 4.6; 95% CI, 1.1–19.8). Mothers were more likely to worry about their child’s potential for future overweight if they or the child’s father were overweight.

Conclusions: Despite mounting public concern about childhood obesity in Australia, most mothers surveyed were not concerned about their child’s weight, and many mothers did not perceive their overweight children as different from their peers. This may have implications for interventions that rely on acknowledgement of child overweight as a first step to change.

  • Michele W-C Campbell1
  • Joanne Williams2
  • Anne Hampton3
  • Melissa Wake4

  • Centre for Community Child Health, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Melbourne, VIC.



The PEAS Kids Growth Study was supported by grants from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Michele Campbell was funded by postgraduate research scholarships from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and the NHMRC. The Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and the NHMRC had no role in the study design, data collection, analysis, interpretation or writing of the article.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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