Open Access Research article

Measuring the accuracy of self-reported height and weight in a community-based sample of young people

Anna L Bowring1*, Anna Peeters2, Rosanne Freak-Poli23, Megan SC Lim13, Maelenn Gouillou1 and Margaret Hellard134

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Population Health, Burnet Institute, 85 Commercial Rd, Melbourne, VIC, 3004, Australia

2 Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, 99 Commercial Road, Melbourne, VIC, 3004, Australia

3 Department of Epidemiology & Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing & Health Sciences, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, The Alfred Centre, 99 Commercial Road, Melbourne, VIC, 3004, Australia

4 Nossal Institute for Global Health, The University of Melbourne, Level 4, Alan Gilbert Building, 161 Barry Street, Carlton, Melbourne, VIC, 3010, Australia

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2012, 12:175  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-12-175

Published: 21 November 2012



Self-reported anthropometric data are commonly used to estimate prevalence of obesity in population and community-based studies. We aim to: 1) Determine whether survey participants are able and willing to self-report height and weight; 2) Assess the accuracy of self-reported compared to measured anthropometric data in a community-based sample of young people.


Participants (16–29 years) of a behaviour survey, recruited at a Melbourne music festival (January 2011), were asked to self-report height and weight; researchers independently weighed and measured a sub-sample. Body Mass Index was calculated and overweight/obesity classified as ≥25kg/m2. Differences between measured and self-reported values were assessed using paired t-test/Wilcoxon signed ranks test. Accurate report of height and weight were defined as <2cm and <2kg difference between self-report and measured values, respectively. Agreement between classification of overweight/obesity by self-report and measured values was assessed using McNemar’s test.


Of 1405 survey participants, 82% of males and 72% of females self-reported their height and weight. Among 67 participants who were also independently measured, self-reported height and weight were significantly less than measured height (p=0.01) and weight (p<0.01) among females, but no differences were detected among males. Overall, 52% accurately self-reported height, 30% under-reported, and 18% over-reported; 34% accurately self-reported weight, 52% under-reported and 13% over-reported. More females (70%) than males (35%) under-reported weight (p=0.01). Prevalence of overweight/obesity was 33% based on self-report data and 39% based on measured data (p=0.16).


Self-reported measurements may underestimate weight but accurately identified overweight/obesity in the majority of this sample of young people.

Body height; Body weight; Body mass index; Overweight; Obesity self-report; Validity; Young people