American children are eating better, but they weigh more

May 29, 2001 in Healthy Eating, Nutrition for Children and Teenagers, Weight Management

American children are eating better, but they weigh more

Many of the eating habits of the typical American 10-year-old have improved over the past 20 years, but an increasing number of children are overweight, researchers the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas report.

The researchers tracked seven groups of 10-year-olds in Bogalusa, Louisiana, between 1973 and 1994, as part of the Bogalusa Heart Study, which has been collecting information on children's diets and subsequent heart disease for the past two decades. The investigators found that in the 1990s, children were more likely to eat fruit and fruit juices, chicken, snack foods and cheese, compared with those studied in earlier years. Importantly, today's kids were less likely to eat fats, desserts and candy.

They found that the children's calorie intake remained fairly constant over the two decades, at around 2,000 to 2,200 calories daily, with boys consuming slightly more than girls. However, the sources of the calories changed, with more coming from protein and carbohydrates, and less coming from saturated fats. Daily cholesterol intake also declined. But despite this dietary improvement, more than 75% of the children still exceeded the current recommendations for total fat intake.

Despite their nutritional improvements, today's children were more likely to be heavy than in past decades. Children in 1994 had, on average, more body fat than their counterparts in the 1970s did. The researchers speculate this may be partially due to a decrease in children's physical activity in recent years. And today's children watched more television, which studies have linked to an increased tendency toward obesity.

"All it takes," the researcher said, "is an extra 48 calories daily, such as drinking two thirds of a can of soda, to gain 5 pounds a year."

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