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Open Access Research article

Self-reporting and measurement of body mass index in adolescents: refusals and validity, and the possible role of socioeconomic and health-related factors

Nearkasen Chau12*, Kénora Chau3, Aurélie Mayet12, Michèle Baumann4, Stéphane Legleye125 and Bruno Falissard126

Author Affiliations

1 INSERM, U669, Paris F-75014, France

2 Univ Paris-Sud, Univ Paris Descartes, UMR-S0669 Paris, France

3 Faculté de médecine, Université de Lorraine, Vandoeuvre-lès-Nancy, Paris, France

4 University of Luxembourg, INtegrative research unit on Social and Individual DEvelopment (INSIDE), Walferdange, Luxembourg

5 Institut national des études démographiques, Paris, France

6 Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris, Villejuif, Paris F-94804, France

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:815  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-815

Published: 8 September 2013



Body mass index assessment using self-reported height and weight (BMIsr) can encounter refusals and under/over-reporting while for assessment with measured data (BMIm) refusals can be more frequent. This could relate to socioeconomic and health-related factors. We explored these issues by investigating numerous potential factors: gender, age, family structure, father’s occupation, income, physical/sports activity, subjective weight perception, school performance, unhealthy behaviours, physical/psychological health, social relationships, living environment, having sustained violence, sexual abuse, and involvement in violence.


The sample included 1559 adolescents from middle schools in north-eastern France. They completed a questionnaire including socioeconomic and health-related data, self-reported height/weight, measured height/weight, and weight perception (participation rate 94%). Data were analysed using logistic regression models.


BMIsr encountered under-reporting (with change in BMI category, 11.8%), over-reporting (6.0%), and reporting refusals (3.6%). BMIm encountered more numerous refusals (7.9%). Reporting refusal was related to living with a single parent, low school performance, lack of physical/sports activity, sustained violence, poor psychological health, and poor social relationships (gender/age-adjusted odds ratios 1.95 to 2.91). Further to these factors, measurement refusal was related to older age, having divorced/separated parents, a father being a manual worker/inactive, insufficient family income, tobacco/cannabis use, involvement in violence, poor physical health, and poor living environment (1.30 to 3.68). Under-reporting was related to male gender, involvement in violence, poor psychological health, and overweight/obesity (as assessed with BMIm) (1.52 to 11). Over-reporting was related to male gender, younger age, alcohol consumption, and underweight (1.30 to 5.35). Weight perception was linked to reporting refusals and under/over-reporting, but slightly linked to measurement refusal. The contributions of socioeconomic and health-related factors to the associations of weight perception with reporting refusal and under/over-reporting ranged from −82% to 44%. There were substantial discrepancies in the associations between socioeconomic/health-related factors and overweight/obesity assessed with BMIsr and BMIm.


BMIsr and BMIm were affected by numerous biases related to vulnerability which were also obesity risk factors. BMIsr encountered under/over-reporting which were related to some socioeconomic and health-related factors, weight perception, and BMIm. BMIm was more affected by refusals than BMIsr due to socioeconomic and health-related factors. Further research is needed.

Body mass index; Self-reporting; Measurement; Validity; Discrepancy; Socioeconomic factors; Heath; Behaviours