Misreporting and misclassification: implications for socioeconomic disparities in body-mass index and obesity.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Body-mass index (BMI) has become the standard proxy for obesity in social science research. This study deals with the potential problems related to, first, relying on self-reported weight and height to calculate BMI (misreporting), and, second, the concern that BMI is a deficient measure of body fat (misclassification). Using a regional Swedish sample, we analyze whether socioeconomic disparities in BMI are biased because of misreporting, and whether socioeconomic disparities in the risk of obesity are sensitive to whether BMI or waist circumference is used to define obesity. Education and income are used as socioeconomic indicators. The overall conclusion is that misreporting and misclassification may indeed matter for estimated educational and income disparities in BMI and obesity. In the misreporting part we find that women with higher education misreport less than those with lower education, leading to underestimation of the education disparity when using self-reported information. In the misclassification part we find that the probability of being misclassified decreases with income, for both men and women. Among women, the consequence is a steeper income gradient when obesity is defined using waist circumference instead of BMI. Among men the income gradient is statistically insignificant irrespective of how obesity is defined, but when estimating the probability of obesity defined by waist circumference, an educational gradient, which is not present when classifying men using BMI, arises.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Health Care Service and Management, Health Policy and Services and Health Economy
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-20
JournalEuropean Journal of Health Economics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Publication categoryResearch