Calculator' Could Help Kids Balance Diet, Exercise
Although counting calories is generally not advised or necessary
for healthy children, developing an understanding of energy
needs could help children keep their food choices in perspective
and balanced with physical activity.
"We hope that children and
parents will use the CNRC's Children's
Energy Needs Calculator to
see the impact that physical
activity has on a child's daily
said CNRC registered dietitian
Joan Carter. Carter, an instructor
with Baylor College of Medicine,
developed the calculator,
which is based on energy recommendations
released by the Institutes of
Medicine in 2002.
According to Carter, an average
53-inch-tall, 63-pound, 9-year-old
boy who is a "counch potato" needs only
about 1500 calories per day. But if he becomes physically
active for an hour a day, his needs jump by a third
-- to about 2000 calories per day.
"With physical activity, it's not so much what a child
does once in a while that matters, but what he or she does
on a regular basis," she said. "Being physical activity
for an hour once a week won't do much, but doing so on a regular
basis really helps keep body weight under control."
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The situation with food intake is similar.
"A child who consumes excess calories once in a while
isn't likely to develop a weight problem. But if they do so
on a regular basis, excess calories begin to add up and weight
problems can and do develop," she said.
Carter points out that anyone
-- including a child -- who habitually consumes 500
calories more than is burned each day will
gain a pound of excess body fat in just one week!
"Excessive weight gains
among children have become a real problem, which means
that many children are consuming far more calories
than they burn," Carter said.
According to government data, the number of children who
are overweight or at risk of being overweight has more than
doubled over the past ten years and tripled since 1980.
into the habit of consuming extra calories is relatively
easy," she said.
For example, a quick lunch consisting
of a 20-ounce soft drink ( 250 calories), super-sized
bag of fries ( 600 calories) and a bacon cheeseburger
(600 calories) provides nearly 1500 calories.
On the other hand, a regular-sized fast food hamburger
(280 calories), a small french fry (210 calories),
and 1% milk (110 calories) has less than half that
"Understanding how the nutrition
information found on Nutrition Facts Labels and available
from restaurants relates to their own energy
needs can help children make healthier food choices," Carter
Carter also believes that understanding
energy needs can help put the recommendations of the
Food Guide Pyramid into perspective.
She points out that consuming
the lowest number of servings from the Food Guide
Pyramid will provide about 1600 calories per day;
the middle level, 2200 calories; and the highest number
of servings, 2800 calories per day.
It's important to keep in mind
that although all calorie-containing foods provide
energy, food must also provide children with a banquet
of essential nutrients," she said. "Choosing
a diet based on the Food Guide Pyramid is one of the
best ways for children to get all the nutrients they
need to grow healthy and strong while avoiding excess