Journal of Public Health

, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 603–612 | Cite as

Accuracy of self-reported weight compared to measured BMI among rural middle school students in Michigan

  • Olushola O. OgunleyeEmail author
  • Martha Mabiala
  • Robyn Anderson
Original Article



Measured body mass index (BMI) is recommended for field-based assessments of overweight and obesity in all population groups. However, self-reported perception of body weight is frequently used in surveys targeting overweight and obese individuals. This study’s purpose was to examine the accuracy of self-reported weight compared to measured BMI among rural middle school students in Michigan.

Subject and methods

A sample of 1995 students aged 11 and 12 were recruited over 5 years from six rural school districts in mid-Michigan. Data were collected using an interviewer-administered questionnaire with questions from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Height and weight were measured by research assistants and BMI calculated.


Although only 3.5% of the students considered themselves very overweight, 26.4% were in the obese category of BMI. Almost a quarter (23.7%) reported they were slightly overweight, but these were all obese by BMI standards. Conversely, while 18.5% reported they were underweight, only 0.9% were truly underweight by BMI standards. A statistically significant difference (P < 0.001) was found in weight perception across BMI categories. Significant gender differences in perception were also found across all perceived weight categories.


It is imperative that children accurately perceive their body weight because this is the first step toward lasting behavior changes to achieve the optimal weight for their age and gender. However, when intervention programs use measured BMI rather than self-reports to define weight status among children and adolescents, it is more likely that overweight and obese children will be accurately targeted for intervention.


Self-reported weight Body mass index Middle school children Rural Overweight and obesity 



We acknowledge and appreciate the research assistants who were invaluable during the health fairs and data collection process of this study.

Compliance with ethical standards

All the authors have made substantial contributions to the following: the conception and design of the study, or acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data; drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content; and final approval of the version to be submitted. Having been actively involved, both personally and jointly, in substantive work that led to the report in the manuscript, the authors will hold themselves responsible for its content. No grant funding was received for this study, and the authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

All relevant ethical safeguards have been met in relation to protection of participants. An application for ethical approval of this study was submitted to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) of Alma College, Alma, Michigan. The project received expedited review and was approved by the IRB. In addition, permission letters were obtained from each school, and reverse parental informed consent and child assent were received for each participant in the study.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Conflicts of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10389_2018_978_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (56 kb)
ESM 1 (XLSX 56 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Public and Community Health, School of Health SciencesLiberty UniversityLynchburgUSA

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