New Study Estimates Calorie Reductions Needed to Achieve Obesity-Prevention Goals

Without changes to eating and activity, more than one in five young people could be obese by 2020, researchers predict.

    • April 12, 2012

In order for the nation to achieve goals set by the federal government for reducing obesity rates by 2020, children in the United States would need to eliminate an average of 64 excess calories per day, researchers calculated in a new study.

This reduction could be achieved by decreasing calorie intake, increasing physical activity or both. Without this reduction, the authors predict that the average U.S. youth would be nearly four pounds heavier than a child or teen of the same age was in 2007-2008, and more than 20 percent of young people would be obese, up from 16.9 percent today.

The 64-calorie “energy gap” is the population-wide average, and the findings show that the energy gap varies widely among different segments of the population. For instance, Mexican American and Black youths would need larger reductions than White youths. Also, young people in low-income communities would need greater reductions, as would teenagers who already are overweight.

The authors outline several policy strategies that could help to close the daily energy gap for American youths. For instance, they point to research showing that:

  • reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by replacing all such beverages in school with water could reduce the population-wide energy gap by 12 calories per day;
  • participating in a comprehensive physical education program could eliminate 19 calories per day among children ages 9-11; and
  • engaging in an after-school activity program for children in grades K-5 could result in an additional 25 calories expended per day.

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