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Health & Parenting

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How Many Extra Calories Add Up to Obesity for Kids?

Study finds overweight children consume more excess calories daily than previously thought


At different ages, and depending on the amount of weight a child has gained, the differences can be even more stark.

For example, the model estimates than an 11-year-old boy who is about 18 pounds overweight has eaten roughly 320 more calories a day than his healthy-weight peers. Meanwhile, a girl who is the same age and also 18 pounds overweight has taken in an extra 301 daily calories.

Hall said the new numbers give parents and doctors a road map for "how we got here" with overweight and obese kids, but they aren't exactly the way back to a normal weight. Kids who cut calories by the amount their currently overeating may stop gaining, for example, but they'd likely need to cut even more to shed their extra pounds.

Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center, praised the new model, and said it clarifies energy intake levels needed to achieve public health goals.

"Importantly, given the rather large calorie excesses fueling childhood obesity, this model is a rebuttal to the food industry arguments that exercise alone can be the answer," said Katz, who is also editor of the journal Childhood Obesity.

"For our kids to achieve healthy weight, control of calories in, not just calories out, will have to be part of the formula," said Katz, who was not involved in the research.

But there's some good news in the new numbers, too. As doctors and parents have long suspected, some kids appear to be able to outgrow their extra pounds when they shoot up in height during puberty, though that feat may be easier for boys than girls, because boys gain more calorie-burning muscle during puberty than girls.

"If you haven't reached puberty and haven't yet reached that growth spurt, that might be the ideal time to institute a weight management intervention to harness the power of the growth to decrease fat mass and increase fat-free mass," said study author Hall.

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