Where Are Kids Getting Their Empty Calories?

Stores, Schools, and Fast-Food Restaurants Each Played an Important Role in Empty Calorie Intake Among U.S. Children During 2009-2010


Schools, as much as stores and fast-food restaurants, contribute to empty calorie consumption by kids.

The Issue:
Added sugar and solid fat consumed without contributing any essential nutrients constitute empty calories and contribute to excessive calorie intake and obesity. Children consume food from school, fast-food restaurants, and stores. Researchers wanted to know which locations and what foods add the most empty calories for kids.

Key Findings

  • The relative contribution to empty calories was similar for stores (33%), schools (32%), and fast-food restaurants (35%), all surpassing U.S. guidelines for how much added sugar and solid fat children should eat.

  • Stores contributed more empty calories (436 calories for sugar; 241 calories for fat) than other venues, reflecting that children consume more food from stores.

  • High-fat milk added the most sugar and fat in schools; pizza the most fat. Sugar-sweetened beverages contributed the most empty calories for stores and fast-food restaurants.

Schools can implement reformed nutrition standards and reduce the availability of high-fat flavored milk, which along with pizza, contributes to children’s empty calorie intake.

About the Study:
Researchers used 2009–2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data on 3,077 U.S. children ages 2 to 18 years old and nutrition information from the United Stated Department of Agriculture.