Accuracy of self-reported versus measured weight over adolescence and young adulthood: findings from the national longitudinal study of adolescent health, 1996-2008

Many studies rely on self-reports to capture population trends and trajectories in weight gain over adulthood, but the validity of self-reports is often considered a limitation. The purpose of this work was to examine long-term trajectories of self-reporting bias in a national sample of American youth. With 3 waves of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (1996-2008), we used growth curve models to examine self-reporting bias in trajectories of weight gain across adolescence and early adulthood (ages 13-32 years). We investigated whether self-reporting bias is constant over time, or whether adolescents become more accurate in reporting their weight as they move into young adulthood, and we examined differences in self-reporting bias by sex, race/ethnicity, and attained education. Adolescent girls underreported their weight by 0.86 kg on average, and this rate of underreporting increased over early adulthood. In contrast, we found no evidence that boys underreported their weight either in adolescence or over the early adult years. For young men, self-reports of weight were unbiased estimates of measured weight among all racial/ethnic and educational subpopulations over adolescence and early adulthood.