Should your children diet? How many calories do they need?

How many calories does my child need? Should kids diet?

Parents often ask how many calories their children need, but for an average child who is growing and developing normally with a normal level of activity, it is usually unnecessary to count calories. However, knowing how many calories your child needs per day can help you plan your child’s nutrition and ensure a healthy diet for the family.

Estimated amounts of calories needed to maintain energy balance for various gender and age groups varies with the three different levels of physical activity. The following chart is the USDA dietary guidelines for Americans. This chart gives you a sense of how many calories (ENERGY IN) your family members need. The estimates are rounded to the nearest 200 calories and were determined using the Institute of Medicine equation.

Gender Age (years) Sedentaryb Moderately Activec Actived
Child 2-3 1,000 1,000-1,400 1,000-1,400
Female 4-8
9-13
14-18
19-30
31-50
51+
1,200
1,600
1,800
2,000
1,800
1,600
1,400-1,600
1,600-2,000
2,000
2,000-2,200
2,000
1,800
1,400-1,800
1,800-2,200
2,400
2,400
2,200
2,000-2,200
Male 4-8
9-13
14-18
19-30
31-50
51+
1,400
1,800
2,200
2,400
2,200
2,000
1,400-1,600
1,800-2,200
2,400-2,800
2,600-2,800
2,400-2,600
2,200-2,400
1,600-2,000
2,000-2,600
2,800-3,200
3,000
2,800-3,000
2,400-2,800

 

SHOULD KIDS DIET?

            Bad eating habits and low activity levels are patterns that are usually developed in childhood and continue into adulthood. These patterns lead to obesity with increasing risks of heart disease, strokes, diabetes and osteoarthritis as adults. It is however important to stress that ‘staying fit’ and ‘being thin’ are not the same.  In a society that sadly glorifies thinness, many of our overweight children are mocked by peers that often lead to low self esteem. So it can be implied that bad diet not only causes medical problems of obesity and related conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, bone and joint problems etc., but can also adversely affect behavior and learning. So do we put the overweight kids on a diet? The simple answer is ‘NO’. Children should not go on a diet unless it is medically indicated to be on a special diet due to an underlying medical problem. If your child is overweight due to eating too many bad foods, then starting to eat healthy coupled with moderate amounts of exercise and physical activity should make them start losing weight. It is often a fine line between ‘eating to stay fit’ and ‘going on a diet to lose weight’. Eating right and exercising should ensure that your child is in the recommended range of norms for weight and body mass index for age.

          All children need to eat a diet that helps them grow and develop. It should include plenty of fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates for energy, calcium for bones and teeth, and a moderate amount of sugars, good fat and salt. Food pyramids are a great resource to find out what your child needs and in what proportion. If your child is obese and has related medical problems, it is necessary to work closely with your pediatrician to regulate their weight loss. Often a referral to a specialist and /or a dietician is required to ensure that the right steps are taken to monitor the weight loss and also to care for their medical problems.

a These levels are based on Estimated Energy Requirements (EER) from the Institute of Medicine Dietary Reference Intakes macronutrients report, 2002, calculated by gender, age, and activity level for reference-sized individuals. “Reference size,” as determined by IOM, is based on median height and weight for ages up to age 18 years of age and median height and weight for that height to give a BMI of 21.5 for adult females and 22.5 for adult males.

b Sedentary means a lifestyle that includes only the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life.

c moderately active means a lifestyle that includes physical activity equivalent to walking about 1.5 to 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, in addition to the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life

d Active means a lifestyle that includes physical activity equivalent to walking more than 3 miles per day at 3 to 4 miles per hour, in addition to the light physical activity associated with typical day-to-day life.

Shobha Bhaskar, M.D. About Shobha Bhaskar, M.D.

Shobha Bhaskar, MD is a pediatric hospitalist with St. Louis Children's Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, who also sees patients at Children's Hospital facilities at Missouri Baptist Medical Center and Progress West Healthcare. Connect with Dr. Bhaskar on Facebook: ChildrensMomDocs and .

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