Open Access Research article

Health-related quality of life in overweight German children and adolescents: do treatment-seeking youth have lower quality of life levels? Comparison of a clinical sample with the general population using a multilevel model approach

Emily Finne1*, Thomas Reinehr2, Anke Schaefer2, Katrin Winkel2 and Petra Kolip1

Author Affiliations

1 School of Public Health, Bielefeld University, Universitätsstraße 25, Bielefeld, D-33615, Germany

2 Department of Pediatric Endocrinology, Diabetes and Nutrition Medicine, Vestische Youth Hospital, University of Witten/Herdecke, Dr.-F.-Steiner-Str. 5, Datteln, D-45711, Germany

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:561  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-561

Published: 8 June 2013



Health-related quality of life (HRQoL) is reduced in obese children and adolescents, especially in clinical samples. However, little is known regarding the HRQoL of moderately overweight youth. Moreover, several studies have indicated perceived overweight as a critical factor associated with lower HRQoL. Our main objective was to compare HRQoL between treatment-seeking overweight youth and the general adolescent population, whilst separating the effects of treatment-seeking status and perceived weight from those of objective weight status.


We compared the HRQoL of a clinical sample of overweight youth (N=137 patients, mean age±s.e.=11.24±0.15 years) with that of a representative population sample (N=6354, mean age=12.75±0.03 years). The population sample was subdivided into groups based on measured and perceived weight status. We used hierarchical linear models to compare HRQoL subscale scores (self- and parent-reported) between patients and population groups, adjusted for sociodemographic characteristics and taking into account clustering of the population sample.


The parent-reported HRQoL of the treatment sample was significantly lower than that of other overweight youth perceived as ‘too fat’ on two subscales: ‘self-esteem’ and ‘friends’ (effect sizes: d=0.31 and 0.34, respectively). On other subscales, patients scored lower than adolescents perceived as having a ‘proper weight’ by their parents. The patterns for self-reported HRQoL in adolescents were different: patients reported higher self-esteem than other overweight youth feeling ‘too fat’ (d=-0.39). Female patients also reported higher physical well-being (d=-0.48), whereas males scored lowest among all compared groups (d=0.42-0.95). Patients did not differ from other overweight youth who felt ‘too fat’ with respect to other HRQoL dimensions. In general, lower HRQoL was primarily associated with a perceived, rather than actual, overweight status.


The treatment-seeking status of overweight youth was notably associated with low social well-being, which may therefore be the main motive for seeking treatment. Other HRQoL domains were not consistently reduced in treatment-seekers. Our results further indicate that perceived overweight rather than actual overweight impacts HRQoL in youth with a modest excess weight. These results have implications for interventions in overweight youth and in individuals who are dissatisfied with their weight.

Trial registration

‘Obeldicks light’ is registered at (NCT00422916).

Health-related quality of life; Overweight; Obesity; Weight perception; Body image; Children and adolescents; Treatment-seeking status