Study pinpoints top sources of empty calories for children and teens

Children of all ages are consuming high amounts of added sugars and solid fats

Rockville, MD (June 1, 2020) – A new study of children and teens found that more than 25% of the calories they consume were considered empty – those from added sugars and solid fats. The top sources of these empty calories were soft drinks, fruit drinks, cookies and brownies, pizza, and ice cream.

“Our findings suggest a need for continued research into what children and adolescents are eating,” said Edwina Wambogo, PhD, who was a recent postdoctoral Cancer Research Training Award Fellow with the National Cancer Institute. “Examining the whole landscape of available foods and beverages for children and adolescents can help inform new ways to promote healthier eating.”

Wambogo, the primary investigator for the study, will present the research as part of NUTRITION 2020 LIVE ONLINE, a virtual conference hosted by the American Society for Nutrition (ASN).

The researchers used data from the 2007-2008 through 2015-2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to analyze diet trends for children and adolescents ages 2 to 18 years old.

“Over the time period studied, we observed a downward trend in the percent of calories coming from empty calories without any associated decrease in total calorie intake,” said Wambogo. “This trend was mostly driven by declines in added sugars intake, including those from soft drinks and fruit drinks.”

Despite this positive trend, the analysis revealed that for all age groups studied more than 25% of their caloric intake came from empty calories, with the percentage of empty calories increasing with age. The top food sources for these calories remained almost the same from 2007-2008 to 2015-2016. However, with increasing age, the sources shifted from beverages such as fruit drinks and flavored milks to foods such as pizza and sweet bakery products. In terms of drinks, older children and teens also tended to consume more calories from soft drinks rather than fruits drinks, flavored milks and whole milk.

Based on their findings, the researchers suggest several strategies that might be used to help children and teens consume healthier foods:

  • Designing interventions that target top sources of energy and empty calories.

  • Nutrition education that addresses hidden sources of empty calories from frequently consumed foods.

  • Increased marketing that promotes healthier foods to children and teens and limited marketing of less healthy foods.

  • Product reformulation such as reducing added sugars in beverages.

  • Changing the food environment to ensure availability of healthy foods and limit access to less healthy foods.

The researchers are planning a follow-up study to examine how the top sources of energy and calories consumed by this age group vary by family income. They also want to study further how added solid fats and sugars in beverages may impact intake of calories among children and adolescents.

Due to the cancellation of the Nutrition 2020 meeting, which was to be held in Seattle, this abstract will be presented as part of ASN’s virtual meeting, NUTRITION 2020 LIVE ONLINE, which will be held from June 1-4, 2020. Contact the media team for more information or register to access the virtual content.

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This release may include updated numbers or data that differ from those in the abstract submitted to NUTRITION 2020 LIVE ONLINE.

Please note that abstracts presented at NUTRITION 2020 LIVE ONLINE were evaluated and selected by a committee of experts but have not generally undergone the same peer review process required for publication in a scientific journal. As such, the findings presented should be considered preliminary until a peer-reviewed publication is available.

About NUTRITION 2020 LIVE ONLINE

NUTRITION 2020 LIVE ONLINE is a dynamic virtual event showcasing new research findings and timely discussions on food and nutrition. The online meeting, held June 1-4, 2020, is hosted by the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) with support from the ASN Foundation. ASN’s flagship meeting, Nutrition 2020, was canceled due to the impacts of COVID-19. https://meeting.nutrition.org #NutritionLiveOnline

About the American Society for Nutrition (ASN)

ASN is the preeminent professional organization for nutrition research scientists and clinicians around the world. Founded in 1928, the society brings together the top nutrition researchers, medical practitioners, policy makers and industry leaders to advance our knowledge and application of nutrition. ASN publishes four peer-reviewed journals and provides education and professional development opportunities to advance nutrition research, practice and education. http://www.nutrition.org

Find more news briefs and tipsheets at: https://www.eurekalert.org/meetings/nutrition/2020/newsroom/.

Media Contact
Nancy Lamontagne
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