Extra Calories and Childhood Obesity

Surprisingly, many parents of overweight kids think that their children eat well.

They may think that they eat healthy meals and aren't over-snacking, but their kids continue to gain extra weight.


Usually continued weight gain means that a child is getting more calories than a parent

realizes. This may come from oversized portions, extra snacks, high calorie foods,or drinking too many calories in the form of juice, soda, or even too much milk.

Calorie Control

One basic way to avoid extra calories is try and stick to some basic guidelines about child nutrition, including that your kids:

  • eat three meals a day with age-appropriate portion sizes, keeping in mind that:
    • a toddler-portion size should equal about a quarter of an adult portion size
    • preschooler or younger school-age children (kids from the age of about four to eight years old) should have portions that are about one-third of an adult portion size
    • portion sizes for older children and teens begin to approach that for adults
  • have a regular snack time -- usually late morning and early afternoon for toddlers and preschoolers and just after school for older kids, avoid a bedtime snack, and eat healthy snacks that are just 100 to 150 calories per servings so that they don't turn them into an extra meal.
  • have a limit of only 4 to 6 ounces of 100% fruit juice a day (children aged 1 to 6 years old) and just 8 to 12 ounces of 100% fruit juice a day for older children and teens.
  • avoid fruit drinks, sweet tea, and soda, etc.
  • avoid drinking too much milk, which is sometimes a problem for toddlers and preschoolers, who can drink too much whole cow's milk if permitted. Instead, follow the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations and give your child who is:
    • 1 to 3 years old get about 2 servings of milk (low-fat milk after age 2 years)
    • 4 to 8 years old get about 3 servings of low-fat milk
    • 9 to 18 years old get about 4 servings of low-fat milk

    Avoiding Extra Calories

    Reviewing those guidelines, most parents quickly find some simple way to eliminate a few hundred calories from their child's diet, such as by cutting back on juice, changing to low-fat milk, and/or cutting back on snacks.

    Will a few hundred calories a day really make that much difference?

If you remember that 1 pound of fat is equal to about 3500 calories, then those 200 calories a day will add up to an extra pound of weight gain in about 17 or 18 days.

As you can see, those extra calories quickly add up.

These tips can help your kids avoid those extra calories:

  • If your child is still hungry at mealtime, you can usually give more, but that should usually be limited to vegetables and other low-fat side dishes, especially if your is overweight. Getting second helpings of the main course, which typically have the most calories, is usually not a good idea.
  • Offer healthy desserts, including fruit and avoiding junk food -- higher calorie, higher fat desserts, which usually have added sugar -- except as an occasional treat.
  • Choose child portions, small orders, or half orders when you eat out at restaurants, and never super-size anything.
  • Avoid high-fat snacks and high-calorie snacks, or letting your kids eat junk food all day.
  • Have healthy snacks handy and ready for your kids to eat.

Is a few hundred calories enough? For some kids it is, but for kids who need to lose a lot of weight or who were gaining 2 or 3 pounds a month, they may need to cut back even more to meet their weight loss goals.

What You Need To Know

  • Even if your child is overweight, you should usually talk about a healthy diet and not dieting.

  • For weight loss and a healthy lifestyle, remember to balance the food your child eatswith regular exercise and physical activity.

  • Talk to your pediatrician or a registered dietician to see how many calories your child needs each day and how much he should cut back.