It seems an obvious remedy for childhood obesity: Encourage kids with weight problems to eat less, just as their skinnier peers do.
But a new study suggests that overweight tweens aren't actually eating more calories than normal-weight children.
The CBC reports that overeating at younger ages may set the pattern for later years: "One explanation for this would be that increased caloric intake in early childhood is related to obesity's onset, but other mechanisms, such as differences in energy expenditure, may be more responsible for maintaining weight through adolescence," Asheley Cockrell Skinner, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina and her colleagues, wrote in Monday's issue of the journal Pediatrics.
Researchers gathered data from a survey of what 19,125 children from the age of one to 17 ate during a 24-hour period. For kids under six, parents filled in questionnaires. Kids six to 11 had help from an adult and children over 12 answered questions independently. According to the study's abstract , overweight and obese girls older than seven years and boys older than 10 years consumed fewer daily calories than their healthy-weight peers.
In addition to the theory of a mechanism set in motion in younger years, researchers suggest that another reason for the surprising caloric intake findings may be that overweight children are less physically active.
"This is in line with other research that obesity is not a simple matter of overweight people eating more — the body is complex in how it reacts to amount of food eaten and amount of activity," the CBC reports Skinner said in a release.
To complicate matters, another study released earlier this month suggested that it's okay to be overweight or obese, as long as you're fit.
Confusing, maybe, but good reminders that the problem of obesity may not boil down to that extra doughnut or hamburger.