(dailyRx News) Eat less, weigh less, correct? It may not be that simple for overweight children, according to a new study from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
The study, led by Asheley Cockrell Skinner, PhD, found that, despite the seeming contradiction, older overweight children consume fewer daily calories than healthy weight children the same age.
Dr. Skinner and team examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) collected during 2001 to 2008.
The data included two days of self-reported food intake information from 12,648 children ages 1 to 17 years old. (Children below the age of 6 had their reports completed by an adult, those ages 6 to 11 had help from an adult and those ages 12 and up completed the reports by themselves.)
Overall, the majority of the children (69 percent) were at a healthy weight, based on weight-for-length percentile in those under age 2, and body mass index (BMI) in the older children.
Sixteen percent were found to be overweight, 12 percent were obese and 4 percent were categorized as very obese.
Results showed that while overweight and obese children under the age of 9 reported a higher calorie consumption than kids the same age with a healthy weight, this was not true of those between the ages of 9 and 17.
According to Dr. Skinner,“Children who are overweight tend to remain overweight, 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," possibly due to factors like complex body processes and lower rates of activity.
"When you're younger and you have excess caloric energy coming in and getting stored as fat, you have an increase in the number of fat cells or in the size of fat cells," registered dietitian Carol Wolin-Riklan told dailyRx news, "This can affect the hormones that help control hunger and satiety and affect the mind-body connection."
Though longer-term research looking at eating habits over time should be completed, this study shows a potentially interesting relationship between calories and children, and according to the authors, could provide different strategies for keeping kids healthy.
"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,” said Dr. Skinner.
In an interview with dailyRx News, Wolin-Riklan highlighted the fact that participants above 12 years old self-reported the results, which is right around the age where body awareness starts to play a bigger role.
"At this age children are more aware of their body and others may make them more aware of flaws," said Wolin-Riklan, "They may not self-report everything that they eat with complete accuracy."
"This is good first step to help us really target interventions to children, not just overweight children, but children in general. If we work on healthy habits and healthy lifestyle and not just counting calories, we will have a healthier generation to come," said Wolin-Riklin.
No conflicts of interest were reported by the authors of this study, which was published online in September 2012 in the journal Pediatrics.