Human Nutrition Research Centre


How can we help parents recognise unhealthy body weight in their children


This multistage translational study was funded by the MRC - National Prevention Research Initiative  It aimed to address the need for improving strategies for informing parents about their child's weight status. The multidisciplinary team included policy and practice partners in the National Obesity Observatory and the delivery team of NHS choices.

Childhood obesity is an important public health problem worldwide and identifying effective preventive strategies remains a priority. Parents are central to the development of their child's health-related behaviours and play a key role in both the development and implementation of prevention strategies. However, many studies show that parents do not recognise when their child is overweight. For example, our previous NPRI funded work showed that over 2/3rds of parents of overweight children described their child as being of 'normal weight' at 7 years. Addressing the difference between parents' perceptions and actual child weight status is important. If parents do not perceive their child as overweight they are unlikely to make appropriate changes to their child's lifestyle. However there is evidence that parents are more likely to make such changes if they perceive their child's weight as being a health problem.

This study tested tools aiming to improve parents' ability to correctly assess their child's weight status and increase their knowledge of the health consequences of childhood overweight. Four body image scales for boys and girls aged 4-5 and 10-11yrs have been created from over 300 3D body scans ( These have been developed, along with supporting information to increase parental knowledge of the consequences of childhood overweight, with extensive input from parents and health professionals working in the field of childhood obesity.  The body image scales and supporting information collectively have been named the MapMe tool.  A web-based version of MapMe has been developed working with NHS Choices and a paper-based version has also been developed. A cluster-randomised control trial has recently been completed to test whether the tool is effective and which method of delivery is most effective in improving parental recognition of childhood overweight and understanding of its consequences. Partners in 15 local authorities in northern England and beyond were engaged in the project supporting recruitment and, with parental consent, sharing National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) data.