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USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine



Consumer News--Nutrition & Your Child

Volume 1, 2003

'Energy 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 energy needs," 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."

Additional Resources
Track your child's weight changes using the CNRC's Children's
BMI and Percentile Graph Calculator Children's Energy Needs Calculator.
CDC BMI Percentile Growth Charts for Boys and Girls
Assessing childhood growth and weight gain -- tools and tips for parents
Food Guide Pyramid and the Food Guide Pyramid for Young Children
Visual Cues Help Make Sense of Portion Sizes
Portion Size information from the USDA
How to Raise a Healthy Eater
How to Help Your Overweight Child -- brochure
Fast Food Facts
USDA's searchable Food Composition Database
Promoting Physical Acitivity
Latest IOM Nutritional Recommendations for for Vitamins, Minerals and Macronutrients
Energy Needs Calculator for Adults

Fast Food Nutrition Facts Calculators

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.

"Unfortunately, getting 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 amount.

"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 said.

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 calories."






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