Ethnic differences in self-reported and measured obesity

William D. Johnson, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana State University System, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA.
Claude Bouchard
Robert L. Newton
Donna H. Ryan
Peter T. Katzmarzyk


As use of self-reported data to classify obesity continues, ethnic differences in reporting errors remain unclear. The objective of this study is to elucidate misreporting disparities between African Americans (AAs) and European Americans (EAs). The Pennington Center Longitudinal Study (PCLS) is an ongoing investigation of environmental, behavioral, and biological factors associated with obesity, diabetes, and other common diseases. Self-reported and measured height and weight were collected during initial screening for eligibility in various studies by telephone and clinic visits. All ethnicity-sex groups (15,656 adults aged 18-65 years, 53% obese, 34% AA, 37% men) misreported heights and weights increasingly as measured values increased (P < 0.0001). More AA vs. EA women (P < 0.001) misreported height and weight, but more EA vs. AA men misreported their weight (P < 0.02). Obesity was underestimated more in AA vs. EA women (self-reported - measured prevalence = -4.0% (AA) vs. -2.6% (EA), P < 0.0001), but less in AA vs. EA men (-3.2% (AA) vs. -4.2% (EA), P < 0.0001)). With measured obesity prevalence equalized at 53% in all groups, the self-reported obesity prevalence in women was 50.4% (AA) vs. 49.6% (EA), and in men 49.8% (AA) vs. 47.3 (EA). Underestimation in women was -2.6% (AA) vs. -3.4% (EA); in men it was -3.2% (AA) vs. -5.7% (EA), P < 0.003. Self-reported height and weight portend underestimation of obesity prevalence and the effect varies by ethnicity and gender. However, comparisons depend on the true prevalence within ethnicity-gender groups. After controlling for obesity prevalence, disparity in underestimation was greater in EA than in AA men (P < 0.003) but not women.