There’s an epidemic of childhood obesity in this country, and experts think they know why. Not only are kids getting eating too much and not exercising enough – they’re getting too many empty calories. A recent article in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association looked more closely at this disturbing trend.
Too Many Empty Calories for Kids
Empty calories is a term used to describe foods that are high in calories, fat, or sugar, but low in nutrition. Typical “empty calorie” foods are soft drinks, potato chips, candy, French fries, and other highly sweetened or over-processed foods. As it turns out, parents are allowing their kids to have too many of these sweet treats, which is contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic that’s sweeping the country. Shockingly, fifty percent of a child or adolescent’s calories now comes from empty calories.
Where Are Kids Getting Their Empty Calories?
The types of empty calories kids and adolescents eat the most varies with their age. Kids between the ages of two and eighteen years get almost ten percent of their calories from sugar-sweetened drinks, including soft drinks. The rest of their empty calories came from desserts and pizza. Desserts that topped the list were ice cream, cookies, donuts, and cake.
Younger kids fared a little better from a nutritional standpoint. Children between the ages of two and three got most of their calories from fruit juice, milk, and pasta. Pasta and milk were also top choices for kids in kindergarten and elementary school.
Poor Diet in Children Leads to Health Problems Later
The diet a child eats early in life helps to shape their food preferences later in life. A child who develops a taste for foods high in calories, fat, and sugar will almost certainly make the wrong food choices later on in life. Plus, there’s growing evidence that a poor diet in childhood increases the risk of health problems later in life, particularly obesity.
Empty Calories and Poor Diet in Children: The Take-Home Message
Parents need to look more closely at the types of food their kids eat. It’s okay to enjoy a treat once in a while, but too many empty calories can lead to poor food choices and health problems later. The bottom line? More fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains – and fewer empty calorie foods.
Eurekalert.org. “Flow of empty calories into children’s food supply must be reduced”