Jason Knapfel writes for Oregon Weight Loss Surgery, a gastric surgery clinic based in Portland, Oregon.
Sometimes battling obesity can seem like an insurmountable challenge, but in the case of childhood obesity, it may just be a matter of 64 calories. The federal government has set a goal for reducing childhood obesity rates by 2020. In order to meet that challenge, researchers say that kids need to eliminate an average of 64 excess calories a day. As an added bonus, those 64 calories don’t just have to be eliminated through diet. Children can find ways to burn an extra 64 calories each day through exercise. Sounds easy, right? Not quite.
Getting one child to achieve this relatively easy goal is one thing, getting the entire country to is a whole other ballgame.
“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,” says the study’s lead author Y. Claire Wang, MD, ScD, assistant professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “Closing this gap between how many calories young people are consuming and how many they are expending will take substantial, comprehensive efforts.”
The challenge is substantial because that magic number of 64 calories does not apply to any one person, but an average of all American kids.
Dr. Wang and her colleagues analyzed decades of data on obesity rates to determine how many young people would be obese in 2020. The obesity rate is currently at nearly 17 percent. In 2020, they project it to be 21 percent.
The “energy gap” is a phrase that refers to the daily difference between how many calories kids consume and how many they burn with normal body function, growth, and exercise. Not simply satisfied with presenting the data on calories and obesity rate projections, the researchers gave practical suggestions on how to close the so-called energy gap with our children:
- Replace all sugar-sweetened beverages in school with water and do not consume any additional sugary beverages outside of school. This could reduce the energy gap by 12 calories a day.
- Have kids participate in a comprehensive physical education program, which could eliminate 19 calories each day among children between 9 and 11 years old.
- Have kids between the grades of kindergarten through 5th participate in an after-school activity program. This could result in an additional 25 calories burned every day.