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March 4, 2013

Kids Eating Less, But Is That Healthy?

The Hood Answer Mom, Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

New information from government research on our eating habits has found that children consumed fewer calories on a daily basis in 2010 than in 2000. Given that about 17% of American children are overweight, this comes as welcome news to my dietitian ears, and it does - to a point.  Calorie consumption doesn't tell the whole story about childhood nutrition.

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), calorie intake for boys ages two to 19 dropped by 158 calories a day from 2000 to 2010; girls the same age ate 76 fewer calories.  The decrease in daily calorie intake may not seem like much on a daily basis, but consider this: An extra 100 calories a day from food amounts to the caloric equivalent of about 10 pounds of body fat in a year's time. Any drop in calories counts toward long-term weight control, as long as it doesn't jeopardize a child's growth and development. While total calories matter when it comes to a healthy weight, calorie quality counts, too. Children are not little adults; they often need more of certain nutrients than adults, on a pound-per-pound basis.

It's difficult to tell why kids are eating less. The NHANES data shows that calories from carbohydrates declined from 2000 to 2010. Did children drink less soda, and eat fewer cookies and less candy during that time, which would account for the decrease?

Hopefully, a decline in high-carbohydrate, low-nutrient foods accounts for the differences in carbohydrate intake. I would hate to think that children consumed fewer healthy carbohydrate-rich foods including milk, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans note that children's eating patterns remain low in calcium, vitamin D, and potassium (three nutrients found in Hood Milk  ). Whole grains, fruits and vegetables are rich in potassium and fiber.

Childhood obesity rates show signs of leveling off, but we still have a ways to go. Nutrient-rich foods, such as lean meat, poultry, milk, Greek yogurt, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables are central to a healthy eating plan for kids whether they are overweight, or not.


Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward

Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a writer, nutrition consultant, and mother of three. She is the author of several books, including MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better and Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, & After Pregnancy . Ward is also a contributing writer for Muscle & Fitness Hers and Men's Fitness magazines.

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