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Researchers Surprised to Find Obese Teens Consume Fewer Calories than Normal-Weight Peers

teen obesity, childhood obesity

Scales are not a good predictor of daily caloric intake for teens.

I read and write quite a bit about childhood and teen obesity and one thing is for sure: those who want to be vocal (but not very scientific) about overweight and obese kids often hint at body size as a kind of moral demonstration. The heavier a kid, the more gluttonous she is. And, of course, the more weak and permissive the parents. Any claims to cutting back without seeing the results are met with suspicion: he must be secretly eating.

But results of a new study have found that very obese teens actually consumed, on average, fewer calories than those kids who are deemed just obese. And those obese kids consumed fewer calories, on average, than the so-called “healthy-weight” peers.

The researchers found this to be true in 12- to 14-year-old girls and 15- to 17-year-old boys and anyone who has lived out even part of their lives as a fat kid spent time pondering what these researchers have only just found.

You can read about the calorie-intake differences in teen kids in a more detailed article at MSNBC, or you can read the actual study in Pediatrics. What I think might be surprising to anyone is that, in some cases, the calorie difference amounts to quite a bit. For example, overweight teen boys consume, on average, 375 calories fewer than healthy-weight ones.

But lower calorie consumption wasn’t always the case for these kids. The researchers found that overweight and obese younger children indeed consumed more calories, on average, than their healthy-weight peers. And that was the case until around 9 to 11 years old, when the one group’s calories went up while the other group’s calories went down. The different outcomes supports the growing understanding that, during the early teen years, the body is kind of programming itself for the size it thinks it wants to be. Which is why it becomes harder for obese and overweight teens to lose weight just by altering diet.

Instead, the researchers think instead of focusing so much on changing obese kids’ diets — which, as we saw, included fewer calories than their skinny friends’ — emphasis needs to be put on increasing physical activity (which, interestingly, burns far fewer calories than we give it credit for).

Upshot: (1) a child’s early years are important from a weight perspective, (2) a sharp drop in calorie intake in teens is not a good idea (are you reading this, Jillian Michaels?) and (3) overweight and obese teens need support, opportunities to exercise and less suspicion around their ability to make good choices and (4) is anyone worried about the eating habits of kids whose weight happens to be in the normal range?

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