US Kids Consuming Fewer Calories

girl with veggies
(Image credit: Ilona75 |

Kids today are consuming fewer calories than they were a decade ago, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Between 1999 and 2010, children's average energy intake dropped from 2,258 calories per day to 2,100 calories per day for boys; and from 1,831 calories per day to 1,755 calories per day for girls. The study included U.S. children ages 2 to 19.

The most significant drops in energy intake were for boys ages 2 to 11, and for girls ages 12 to 19.

The findings are surprising considering that childhood obesity levels in the country as a whole have not declined, said study researcher R. Bethene Ervin, of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

But studies do show that between 2007 and 2010, childhood obesity levels stabilized, and did not increase as they had in previous years. The drop in children's energy intake may have contributed to the leveling off of obesity levels, Ervin said. However, the current study did not look at obesity levels, so more research is needed to confirm this. Researchers will also need to analyze data from more recent years to see if these patterns continue, Ervin said. Recent research suggests that childhood obesity levels in some cities, including New York and Philadelphia, are declining.

The new report also found there was a decrease in the percentage of calories children got from carbohydrates. Because added sugars are considered carbohydrates, this finding suggests that the drop in total energy intake could be due to a decline in the consumption of added sugars, Ervin said. However, Ervin noted the study did not specifically look at the consumption of added sugars separately from the consumption of total carbohydrates.

There was no decline in the number of calories that came from fat, Ervin said. In fact, the percentage of calories consumed from saturated fat was slightly above recommended levels: In 2009 and 2010, the youngsters got about 11 to 12 percent of their daily calories from saturated fat, above the recommended value of 10 percent. Both children and adults need to work on reducing their saturated fat intake, Ervin said.

The number of calories children should eat depends upon their age and gender, and ranges from 900 calories per day for 1-year-old girls and boys to 1,800 calories per day for girls ages 14 to 18 to 2,200 calories per day for boys ages 14 to 18, according to the American Heart Association.

The new report was published today (Feb. 21) by the National Center for Health Statistics.

Pass it on: Children's daily calorie intake has declined in recent years.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.