You might think that all overweight kids eat more calories than thinner kids, but according to a new study, you’d be wrong.
Younger children who are overweight do consume more calories than their thinner peers, but older overweight kids may actually eat fewer calories than their healthy-weight counterparts.
"The message for society and parents is: Don't assume that a child who's overweight is overeating. Obesity isn't just a simple matter of eating more," said study author Asheley Cockrell Skinner, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill. "Be sympathetic. Overweight children reported eating fewer calories, and to lose weight, these kids have to eat even less. It's probably even harder for them to lose weight than we give them credit for."
The study included dietary information from nearly 13,000 children between the ages of 1 and 17. The information came from U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which was conducted from 2001 to 2008. The population included in this study is representative of the U.S. population.
The food-consumption data was collected on two separate days. Children and their parents were asked to recall what the child had eaten in the last 24 hours and how much they ate of any particular food. The researchers had a number of representative measuring devices to try to get the best approximation of portion size that they could.
In the younger kids researchers found that obese and overweight children did in fact eat more calories. For example, in 3- to 5-year-olds, overweight girls consumed an average of 1,721 calories a day compared to 1,578 calories a day for their healthy weight peers. In boys of the same age, the overweight group consumed 1,809 calories a day vs. 1,668 calories a day for the normal-weight children.
But the older obese and overweight children actually ate fewer calories than the thinner kids. Between the ages of 12 and 14, overweight girls consumed about 1,794 calories a day compared to 1,893 calories daily for normal-weight girls. In boys of the same age, the overweight young men consumed about 2,209 calories daily compared to 2,291 for normal-weight boys.
Why were these children still overweight or obese? The researchers believe that the overweight children were less active than their thinner counterparts.
"Overweight children tend to be less active," she said, but added that other factors are likely at play. "The body has complex reactions to how much you eat, when you eat and your activity levels. And, we just don't completely understand these reactions yet," she explained.
An variety of factors affect body weight. "Overweight children tend to be less active," she said, but added that other factors are likely at play. "The body has complex reactions to how much you eat, when you eat and your activity levels. And, we just don't completely understand these reactions yet," she explained.
Parents often worry that their children aren't eating enough, but a child will eat significantly less than an adult, and in general, "the child is usually eating what they need," she said.
Activity appears to play as important a role in childhood as it does in adulthood. Sitting at the computer or watching TV has taken the place of active outdoor endeavors. By exercising together, the whole family can benefit.
You can show an interest in any activities that your child likes. From ballet to biking, encourage your child to participate.
Walking is one of the best exercises for losing weight and building stamina. Everyone benefits from breathing deeper, being out of doors, talking with each other and it's easier on the knnes than running. It’s a super way to get kids off the couch and moving. When children (and adults) are obese, walking is a great start to getting more fit.
Sports are a great way for kids to get active. If your child isn’t interested in traditional sports there are plenty of alternatives such as dance, tae-kwon-do, step aerobics, zumba etc. Sixty minutes of physical activity per day is recommended. It doesn't have to be all at once. You can break up the day into shorter segments as long as you get in a total of one hour of exercise.
Diet is important but it needs to go hand in hand with physical activity. That’s something that every family can work on together.