Open Access Research article

Validity of parent-reported weight and height of preschool children measured at home or estimated without home measurement: a validation study

Inge Huybrechts1*, John H Himes2, Charlene Ottevaere1, Tineke De Vriendt13, Willem De Keyzer14, Bianca Cox5, Inge Van Trimpont6, Dirk De Bacquer1 and Stefaan De Henauw14

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

2 Division of Epidemiology and Community Health University of Minnesota School of Public Health, Minneapolis, USA

3 Research Foundation Flanders, Brussels, Belgium

4 Department of Nutrition and dietetics, Faculty of Health Care, University College Ghent, Gent, Belgium

5 Unit of Epidemiology, Scientific Institute of Public Health, Brussels, Belgium

6 Centre for Pupils Counselling (CLB), Flemish Community Education, Ghent, Belgium

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BMC Pediatrics 2011, 11:63  doi:10.1186/1471-2431-11-63

Published: 7 July 2011



Parental reports are often used in large-scale surveys to assess children's body mass index (BMI). Therefore, it is important to know to what extent these parental reports are valid and whether it makes a difference if the parents measured their children's weight and height at home or whether they simply estimated these values. The aim of this study is to compare the validity of parent-reported height, weight and BMI values of preschool children (3-7 y-old), when measured at home or estimated by parents without actual measurement.


The subjects were 297 Belgian preschool children (52.9% male). Participation rate was 73%. A questionnaire including questions about height and weight of the children was completed by the parents. Nurses measured height and weight following standardised procedures. International age- and sex-specific BMI cut-off values were employed to determine categories of weight status and obesity.


On the group level, no important differences in accuracy of reported height, weight and BMI were identified between parent-measured or estimated values. However, for all 3 parameters, the correlations between parental reports and nurse measurements were higher in the group of children whose body dimensions were measured by the parents. Sensitivity for underweight and overweight/obesity were respectively 73% and 47% when parents measured their child's height and weight, and 55% and 47% when parents estimated values without measurement. Specificity for underweight and overweight/obesity were respectively 82% and 97% when parents measured the children, and 75% and 93% with parent estimations.


Diagnostic measures were more accurate when parents measured their child's weight and height at home than when those dimensions were based on parental judgements. When parent-reported data on an individual level is used, the accuracy could be improved by encouraging the parents to measure weight and height of their children at home.

BMI; weight; height; validity; children; parent reports