By now most parents know that there is an epidemic of childhood obesity in this country. But what you may not know is how few calories a day a child would need to cut out to be able to lose the extra pounds.

According to a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, children and teens need to cut their calorie intake by 41 calories a day, to stop gaining weight. Otherwise, children and teens will weigh about four pounds more across the board.

The federal government would like to see childhood obesity levels go back to the 70s when it was around 5% instead of the 17% that it is currently. The impact of obesity on children is they are more likely to have higher blood pressure & cholesterol levels, increased glucose intolerance, Diabetes, breathing problems, joint and musculoskeletal problems and liver disease. 

To reach the 5% goal, kids need to cut an average of 120 calories a day – 33 calories for preschoolers, 149 calories for grade-schoolers, and 177 calories a day for teens. They would also need to get a little more exercise. As an example, teens would need to jog or walk briskly for 30 minutes a day. Cutting out one 16-ounce soft drink would also help towards lowering calorie intake significantly. 

In setting the Healthy People 2020 goals, the feds were more pragmatic. They hope to reduce the childhood obesity rate by 10 percent of the 2005-2008 levels, to 14.6 percent of children and teens. Getting there would require kids to cut 23 calories a day, on average. Teens, who are more likely to be obese than young children, would have to cut more.

These numbers are based on population averages. Individuals may need more or less adjustment. But the numbers show that the public health world has a lot of work to do to help children keep or reach a healthy weight.

On a positive note, other studies suggest that the national obesity rate for kids and adults may have peaked. But as anyone who has ever had to lose the extra pounds they’ve put on knows, taking it off is not nearly as easy as putting it on. It takes effort and consistency.

What are some items your child can safely eliminate to cut back on high calorie intake?

Sodas, high sugar juices, and fast foods are the biggest contributors to weight gain.  Smaller healthy meals, more often during the day, can help rev up the metabolism.

Exercise helps eliminate extra calories, while building stronger bones and muscles.

When a child is obese, just like when an adult is, it may seem like a mountain that is too high to climb. But it’s not. You just take one step at a time. Begin simple and increase the exercise and calorie control as you get stronger and more confident. Helping your child obtain and maintain a normal weight will give them something they can treasure a lifetime. Better health.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which helped fund the work.