Shocking New Study: Kids Need More Calories to Gain Weight Than Thought

It's always been a tantalizing mystery to me.  How many calories must I burn to be able to eat a bag of M&Ms and not gain weight?  Someone once told me a whole football field equals one M&M (thankfully, I've since learned that's not true).

But since I've been wearing an activity monitor to see just how many calories I burn, though I run, swim and walk every day, sadly, it's not very many.  At least not as many as I  thought (/hoped).

Now a new study is finding out the exact same thing in reverse about obese kids.  HealthDay reports that kids are consuming far more calories than parents and doctors knew.

The new model found that it takes far more calories for children to gain weight than experts had realized.

Damn those lucky kids!  It's the difference between french fries, and an apple.

Brenda Goodman writes, "For example, the old model estimates that for a girl who's a normal weight at age 5 to become 22 pounds overweight by the time she's 10, she'd need to eat around 40 extra calories a day -- the equivalent of the calories in a small apple."

But now scientists have found that she'd actually need to eat far more than that -- about 400 extra calories a day, or the calories in a medium serving of fast-food french fries -- to get the same result.

The amount of calories a child needs to eat to gain weight differs for boys and girls at every age.

"It's a bit of a moving target," study author Kevin Hall, a senior investigator at the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, told Goodman. "The point of these examples is that the excess calorie consumption is much larger than most folks would have suggested in the past."

The study found, using historical data, that "Children today are an average of 13 pounds heavier than kids were in the late 1970s, before the start of the obesity epidemic."  To get to where they are today, obese kids have consumed about 200 more calories a day.

Is this good news, or bad?  "Kids who cut calories by the amount they're currently overeating may stop gaining, for example, but they'd likely need to cut even more to shed their extra pounds," Goodman notes.

Is that old whipping boy, exercise, involved?  Yes, but it's only part of the story.  Exercise alone is not enough.

"For our kids to achieve healthy weight, control of calories in, not just calories out, will have to be part of the formula," Goodman quotes Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Research Centers. Katz was not involved in the research.

So where does that leave us?  Does that mean I can eat my bag of M&Ms and not expect to gain weight?  Probably.  But not every day.  Try, once a week.  And the 2-ounce pack, please, not the 12.


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