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Kids and Calories
By Anika Christ, RD, CISSN, CPT - Life Time Fitness
More than ever, parents are asking how many calories their child needs
to eat on a daily basis. Perhaps this question has become more common
due to the drastic increase of weight and body fat of our childhood
population, but is calorie monitoring beneficial for children or more
detrimental to their health? Parents need to understand why this may not
be the best way to influence their childs health and what factors to
focus on instead.
Trends in Calorie Counting
As a nation, weve become focused on this food value. So focused, we
tend to determine a foods healthiness solely on this number. The
majority of weight loss programs educate adults to primarily focus on
controlling calories, so it shouldn't surprise us that parents want a
magic number to monitor for their children each day.
The school lunch program has also joined the trend in cutting
calories to promote optimal body weight in children. The latest
recommendations, due to take effect this fall, establish a calorie
maximum for each lunch served. While reducing items like fats and whole
milk, there is an attendant risk this plan may cut the important
nutrients needed for child growth.
It's not news
that food companies spend a high amount of money on marketing to
children. Many of the snack or junk foods now boast a calorie number on
the front of their labels to influence parents to purchase that product.
Keeping low-calorie junk food in your pantry is not the same as healthy
eating and parents should not identify quality and nutritional value
based on one particular number.
Is It Really about the
Often enough, health
professionals even emphasize the importance of providing children with
enough calories to grow, but it's important for parents to understand
that children grow because they secrete hormones that make them do so.
They tend to consume more calories than they expend because they are
growing. It's more important to focus on quality nutrients to promote
healthy hormone production and growth (vitamins, minerals, protein)
rather than focusing just on calories.
are typically more in tune with their hunger hormones as well when
compared to adults. At birth, we have a natural hunger-satiety mechanism
that tells us when we are full or hungry. This mechanism tends to go
away once we reach adulthood or can prematurely go away in childhood if
the child has learned negative eating behaviors. Because typical diets
are high in processed foods that require less chewing and provide low
satiation, children today have a hard time knowing when they are hungry
Watch What You Say
can choose to send positive or negative messages when it comes to
eating healthy at home. Children absolutely need to learn by example how
to live a healthy lifestyle. With that, what comes out of your mouth
should be both positive and constructive for the family. And childrens
perception of health food is definitely shaped by parents. If you are
constantly talking about needing to lose weight or watching your
calories, your children will likely adopt the same kind of thinking. If
youre trying to educate your child about healthy foods, you might want
to put calorie considerations further down the list of priorities.
We should eat romaine lettuce and other vegetables
because they contain fiber and vitamins and minerals and not just
because they are low in calories. We should avoid regular consumption of
soda because it's filled with sugar and lacks essential nutrients not
just because it adds an extra 150 calories to your bottom line.
important to give your children the right messages about food and weight
and make sure you practice what you are preaching. Try a healthier
approach of providing the right nutrient-rich foods at each meal and
teaching your child the difference between everyday foods the occasional
treats. Take time to sit and focus on eating as a family. If parents
establish a healthy environment toward food, a child will develop a
positive relationship with food that doesnt require a fixation on
This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention
of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an
alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other
articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.