Eating Patterns and Childhood Obesity

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Childhood obesity is not just an issue in the US. A recent study at Baylor University indicates that dietary changes in Amazonian children in Ecuador also impacts their risk of obesity. Changes in intake outside of their traditional diet with increased consumption of market-acquired foods had more impact on body fat than daily caloric expenditure.

In the study authored by Samuel Urlacher, an assistant professor of anthropology at Balyor, researchers used gold-standard measures of calorie expenditure to find that lean, rural forager-horticulturalist Amazonian children spend roughly the same number of calories daily as their heavier peri-urban counterparts. The calorie burn was the same as kids living in the industrialized US. “Variation in things like habitual physical activity and immune activity have no detectable impact on children’s daily energy expenditure in our sample,” he said.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and published in the Journal of Nutrition. It's titled “Childhood Daily Energy Expenditure Does Not Decrease with Market Integration and Is Not Related to Adiposity in Amazonia”.

Food vs Activity

Urlacher states that his study confirms that children’s daily energy expense is consistent despite different environments and lifestyles and that a high-calorie diet plays more of a part in determining body fat. The study supports the opinion that diet change is the main factor that increases the rise in childhood obesity globally, especially in fast urbanization in low- and middle- income countries.

According to the NCD Risk Factor Collaboration in school-aged children and teens, the global rate of overweight/obesity increased from 4% in 1975 to 18% in 2016, which reflects a serious global health crisis. Overweight/obese children often remain heavy through adulthood. They also have higher lifetime risk of developing chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease and even reduced lifespan.

The rise in childhood overweight and obesity is higher in rural and low- and middle- income countries, though little research has evaluated children’s energy expense to find the cause of imbalance, according to Urlacher.

To learn more about the study, visit the post New Study: Eating Patterns and Childhood Obesity.

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD


Urlacher SS, Snodgrass JJ, Dugas LR, Madimenos FC, Sugiyama LS, Liebert MA, Joyce CJ, Terán E, Pontzer H. Childhood Daily Energy Expenditure Does Not Decrease with Market Integration and Is Not Related to Adiposity in Amazonia. J Nutr. 2021 Jan 18:nxaa361.

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