Researchers estimate that if people fail to make healthy eating and activity changes, the result will be that more than one in five young people will be obese by 2020.
But saying “make changes” isn’t very specific. The changes needed can really vary from one person, or one family to another. If you wondering what specifically is needed to lower weight and increase health in this country, a study published this year in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, show the specific calorie changes needed by the country as a whole are just 64 calories a day.
The study shows that in order for the nation to achieve health and weight goals set by the federal government for reducing obesity rates by 2020, children in the United States need to eliminate an average of 64 excess calories per day.
This reduction of 64 calories can be achieved by either decreasing food and beverage calorie intake, by increasing physical activity, or both. With zero reductions, the authors of this study predict that by 2020 the average U.S. youth will weigh four pounds more than a child or teen of the same age in 2007-2008, and around a full 20% of young people will be obese.
Y. Claire Wang, MD, ScD, assistant professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and lead author of the study, notes, “Sixty-four calories may not sound like much individually, but it’s quite a consequential number at the population level, and children at greatest risk for obesity face an even larger barrier. Closing this gap between how many calories young people are consuming and how many they are expending will take substantial, comprehensive efforts.”
The 64 calorie amount isn’t set in stone though. Because children and teens have higher obesity rates than what is considered normal, or average, right now, it really may require more of an average deficit for some groups. For example, this research shows that based on current obesity rates, white youth would need to cut an average of 46 calories per day to reach healthy goals while kids in groups with higher obesity rates in 2008-2010, would need to cut more. The study shows that Mexican-American youth would need to cut 91 calories and black youth would need to cut 138 calories. Lower-income communities vs. higher-income areas also vary.
The study also looks at some easy ways to help kids cut these excess calories, including…
- Taking all sugar-sweetened beverages out of schools could reduce the energy gap by 12 calories per day.
- Comprehensive physical education programs for youth could eliminate 19 calories per day.
- After-school activity program for children could help cut 25 calories per day.
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