A new study by University of North Carolina School of Medicine pediatrics researchers finds a surprising difference in the eating habits of overweight children between ages 9 and 17 years compared to those younger than 9.
Younger children who are overweight or obese consume more calories per day than their healthy weight peers. But among older overweight children the pattern is reversed: they actually consume fewer calories per day than their healthy weight peers.
Children who are overweight tend to remain overweight. So, the researchers say, for many children, obesity may begin by eating more in early childhood. Then as they get older, they continue to be obese without eating any more than their healthy weight peers. The researchers this makes sense since overweight children are less active than healthy weight kids.
These results also suggest that different strategies may be needed to help children in both age groups reach a healthy weight. "It makes sense for early childhood interventions to focus specifically on caloric intake, while for those in later childhood or adolescence the focus should instead be on increasing physical activity, since overweight children tend to be less active," the researchers said.
For the study, the researchers examined dietary reports from 19,125 children ages 1-17 years old that were collected from 2001 to 2008. They categorized the weight status based on weight-for-length percentile in children less than 2 years old, or body mass index (BMI) percentile for children between 2 and 17, and performed statistical analyses to examine the interactions of age and weight category on calorie intake.
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