Kids' Diets Heavy on Empty Calories, Study Says

Filed under: News, In The News, Weird But True, Research Reveals: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Tweens, Research Reveals: Teens, New In Pop Culture

teen pizza boy picture

Pizza is now a major food group for kids in the U.S. Credit: Getty Images


If the trip home from school frequently includes a stop at the kids' favorite pizza joint, get ready for a new dose of parental guilt.

A study released today by leading nutrition experts strongly urges us to reduce the amount of empty calories consumed by our kids.

Published this month in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, the study found that pizza, soda and grain desserts are the top sources of energy for U.S. kids, 2 to 18.

The study finds that nearly 10 percent of total calories consumed by kids were found to be from soda and fruit drinks, and nearly 40 percent were empty calories from solid fat and added sugar -- half of which come from soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, grain desserts, pizza and whole milk.

These findings are notable in light of the fact that more than 23 million U.S. kids and teens reported to be overweight or obese, so the research provides context for new dietary guidelines that could focus specifically on limiting calories from these sources and on making changes in the food environment, the researchers say.

"Most experts agree that the solution will involve changes in both diet and physical activity, in order to affect energy balance," they write. "For diet, this means a reduction in energy from current consumption levels ... product reformulation alone is not sufficient -- the flow of empty calories into the food supply must be reduced."

In looking at the data, the researchers determined that children of different ages get their energy from different sources: For 2- to 3-year-olds, the top five sources of energy included whole milk, fruit juice, reduced-fat milk, and pasta and pasta dishes; pasta and reduced-fat milk were also among the top five sources of energy for 4- to 8-year-olds.

There were also variations by race/ethnicity: Major contributors for 2- to 18-year-old non-Hispanic blacks included fruit drinks and pasta and pasta dishes, while Mexican Americans' top sources included Mexican mixed dishes and whole milk. Non-Hispanic blacks and whites consumed more energy from sugar-sweetened beverages than from milk, whereas it was the exact opposite for Mexican Americans.

In the article, Dr. Rae-Ellen W. Kavey -- of the University of Rochester Medical Center, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Cardiology -- discusses the role of sugar-sweetened beverages in the development of obesity in childhood.

"High added sugar consumption which occurs most commonly in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with ... cardiovascular risk factors, both independently, and through the development of obesity," Kavey writes. "(The) combined body of evidence suggests that reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages should be considered a critical dietary approach to reducing cardiovascular risk in childhood."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.