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Weight status and perception of body image in children: the effect of maternal immigrant status

Emanuela Gualdi-Russo1, Vanessa Samantha Manzon1, Sabrina Masotti1*, Stefania Toselli2, Augusta Albertini1, Francesca Celenza3 and Luciana Zaccagni1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biomedical Sciences and Surgical Specialties, University of Ferrara, Corso Ercole I D’Este, 32, Ferrara, 44121, Italy

2 Department of Evolutionary Experimental Biology, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy

3 Public Health Service Bologna, Bologna, Italy

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Nutrition Journal 2012, 11:85  doi:10.1186/1475-2891-11-85

Published: 15 October 2012



Recent studies have shown that body image perception is an important factor in weight control and may be influenced by culture and ethnicity. The aim of the present study was to assess the relationship between immigrant status of the mother and weight status and body image perception of the child.


In total, 2706 schoolchildren (1405 boys and 1301 girls) aged 8–9 years and their mothers participated in a cross-sectional survey in Emilia-Romagna region (northern Italy). Weight and height of the children were measured and Body Mass Index (BMI) was calculated. Actual and ideal body image perception by the children and by the mothers with respect to their children was evaluated according to Collins’ body image silhouettes.


The BMI values were significantly lower in children of immigrants than in children of Italian mothers (F:17.27 vs 17.99 kg/m2; M:17.77 vs 18.13 kg/m2). The prevalence of overweight/obesity was lower, and the prevalence of underweight higher, in children of immigrant mothers than in those of Italian mothers (overweight- F:21.3 vs 29.1%; M. 28.3 vs 31.4%; underweight- F:5.16 vs 3.84%; M:6.63 vs 2.82%). The children's body image perception was consistent with the differing pattern of nutritional status. In the comparison between actual and ideal figures, the Feel-Ideal Difference Index (FID) scores resulted different between the subsample with foreign-born mother in comparison to the native one (significantly lower in daughters of immigrants) (FID- F: 0.31 vs 0.57; M: 0.35 vs 0.32). There were significant differences in the choice of the ideal figure of the child between immigrant mothers and Italian mothers (FID- F: -0.05 vs 0.19; M: -0.35 vs −0.03): the ideal figure values were higher in the immigrant mothers of male children and lower in the Italian mothers of female children.


Our results suggest that cultural and behavioral factors linked to ethnicity play an important role in the nutritional status of children and in the perceived and ideal body image.

Weight status; Body image perception; Thinness; Overweight; Immigrant status