Childhood Obesity - No One Size Fits All Diagnosis
September 11, 2012

Caloric Consumption Different For Older And Younger Obese Children

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

12.5 million. This is the number of children between the ages of two and 19 who are obese in the United States. One out of seven. This is the rate of low-income children in preschool who are obese. These are just a few statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on childhood obesity. With these startling statistics, more and more research has been done on the topic. Recently, pediatric researchers from University of North Carolina (UNC) found that older children who are overweight consume fewer calories on a daily basis than peers who are at a healthy weight. The new findings show that there is no “one size fits all” explanation regarding childhood obesity.

The team of investigators believes their research shows that there is a difference between the eating habits of children younger than nine years and adolescents between nine years of age and 17 years of age. In particular, younger overweight children consume more calories than their healthy weight peers but do not follow this pattern as they become older.

"Children who are overweight tend to remain overweight," explained lead author Asheley Cockrell Skinner, an assistant professor of pediatrics at UNC, in a prepared statement.

The researchers described possible factors that affected obesity in younger children.

"So, 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," continued Skinner in the statement. "One reason this makes sense is because we know overweight children are less active than healthy weight kids. Additionally, this is in line with other research that obesity is not a simple matter of overweight people eating more – the body is complex in how it reacts to amount of food eaten and amount of activity."

The results of the study also demonstrate the importance of developing various strategies to assist children who are obese in different age groups.

"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," commented Skinner in the statement. "Even though reducing calories would likely result in weight loss for children, it's not a matter of wanting them to eat more like healthy weight kids – they would actually have to eat much less than their peers, which can be a very difficult prospect for children and, especially, adolescents."

In the project, the researchers looked at dietary reports pooled from 19,125 children who were between the ages of one and 17 years of age. Taken from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the data was collected from 2001 to 2008. The researchers then put the weight status into different categories due to weight-for-length percentile for children younger than two years or body mass index for children who were aged between two and 17. Lastly, they conducted statistical analysis of the data to better understand the connection between age and weight category.

The study was recently published in the online edition of the journal Pediatrics.