Flow of empty calories into children's food supply must be reduced
About 17 percent of children and adolescents in the US are obese. Childhood obesity can increase risk for a wide array of health problems. With an additional 15 percent of kids and teens considered overweight, researchers are calling for the flow of empty calories into children's food supply to be reduced.
Balintfy: The diets of American youth have a lot to be desired, in part because they're filled with empty calories.
Reedy: That includes things like cakes, cookies, pies…
Balintfy: That's Dr. Jill Reedy, a nutritionist with the National Cancer Institute.
Reedy: Nearly 40% of total calories consumed by 2-18 year olds were in the form of what we call empty calories, empty calories from solid fats and from added sugars. More specifically, sugar-sweetened beverages, which include soda and fruit drinks combined, provided almost 10% of total calories.
Balintfy: Dr. Reedy has published a paper in this month’s Journal of the American Dietetic Association. The article describes how she and colleagues looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, called NHANES.
Reedy: So this research identifies the major sources of overall energy and empty calories in the diets of American children. So for 2-18 year olds the top sources of energy were grain deserts, pizza and soda.
Balintfy: Energy is another word for "calories." Dr. Reedy adds that children of different ages get their energy from different sources, and there are differences by race-ethnicity as well. But she emphasizes the importance of reducing the flow of empty calories into the food supply.
Reedy: It's unreasonable to expect people to be able to change their eating behaviors when so many forces in the environment conspire against them to make healthy choices. So most experts agree that the solution will involve changes in both diet and physical activity, in order to affect this energy balance.
Balintfy: Energy balance is the balance of calories consumed through eating and drinking compared to calories burned through physical activity. Dr. Reedy says the paper provides context for dietary guidance.
Reedy: The epidemic of obesity among children and adolescents is now regarded as one of the most important public health problems in the United States. And these findings are very consistent with other research from our group here at the National Cancer Institute, as well as others, really adding another piece to the rather disturbing picture that emerging about the nations diet in crisis.
Balintfy: To learn more about managing an energy balance to help children maintain a healthy weight, visit the website wecan.nhlbi.nih.gov. This is Joe Balintfy, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Joe Balintfy
Sound Bite: Dr. Jill Reedy
Topic: childhood obesity, obesity epidemic, epidemic, overweight, calories, empty calories, children’s food, energy balance, sugar-sweetened, added sugar, healthy choices, physical activity, diet