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U.S. Children Eating Fewer Calories

By Marlene Busko
Medscape Medical News

Feb. 22, 2013 -- Here’s a flash of hope for the obesity crisis: Surprising new numbers show that, contrary to common assumptions, U.S. children are not eating more calories.

The type of food they are eating, however, has changed in recent years.

According to the report from the National Center for Health Statistics, between 1999-2010, the average daily calorie intake dropped among American children and teens. At the same time, their diets shifted to contain slightly more protein and slightly fewer carbohydrates, while total fat remained the same.

The percentage of calories from saturated fat was still higher than the level recommended for healthy eating.

To identify the changes in protein, carbohydrates, fat, and total calories in American children and teens, the researchers looked at data for boys and girls aged 2 to 19 who were white, African-American, or Mexican-American.

Over this period, the average daily calories fell by about 7% for boys to 2,100 calories, and about 4% for girls to 1,755 calories.

Fewer carbohydrates drove the drop in calories. The average percentage of calories from carbohydrates decreased from 55% to 54.3% for boys and from 55.8% to 54.5% for girls.

Protein intake rose from 13.5% to 14.7% of calories for boys and from 13.4% to 14.3% of calories for girls.

The amount of fat the children and teens took in remained mostly steady over the period, though, with about one-third of their calories coming from fat. These numbers are particularly worrisome, the researchers caution.

"The percentage of calories from protein, carbohydrate, and fat are within the ranges recommended for these macronutrients for this age group, but the percentage of calories from saturated fat was above the 10% recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010," they write. "In 2009-2010, on average, U.S. children and adolescents consumed between 11% and 12% of [calories] from saturated fat."

To see a version of this story for physicians, visit Medscape, the leading site for physicians and health care professionals.

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