Calorie Counts for Kids

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Calories for Kids

A young girl eating healthy vegetables
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Obesity in kids has reached epidemic levels. Experts estimate that 17 percent of kids are overweight and another 14 percent are obese. It's believed that two-thirds of these overweight kids will become overweight adults.

Although a lack of physical activity and poor eating habits have likely contributed to this rise in obesity, another big problem is that many children are simply getting too many calories, which are then turned into extra fat.

Do you know how many calories you and your kids need each day? Although you usually shouldn't have to count calories each and every day, it can be helpful to track how many calories your child is getting from the things that he eats and drinks over a few days or weeks and then compare it to your child's daily caloric needs. This is especially important if your child is already overweight.

If you find that your child's intake of calories is much below or above standard recommendations, you should likely talk to your pediatrician and/or a registered dietitian to get some help planning a more healthy diet for your child.

Fortunately, it is easy to figure out and calculate how many calories your kids need each day.

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How Many Calories Do Your Kids Need Each Day?

You may be worried because your child is a picky eater and you think he is not getting enough calories. Or, you may worry that your child eats a lot and is getting too many calories. Understanding how many calories your child actually needs might help you worry a little less. It might also help you avoid overfeeding your child, as many parents overestimate how many calories their kids need and get.

To calculate how many calories a child needs each day, you just need to know their:

  • Age (older kids need more calories than younger kids)
  • Sex (boy or girl)
  • Activity level (is the child physically active or a couch potato?)

Uses these charts to calculate your child's daily calorie needs.

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Daily Calorie Needs for Moderately Active Boys

The estimated daily calorie needs for moderately active boys include:

  • 2 years: 1,000 calories/day
  • 3 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 4 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 5 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 6 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 7 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 8 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 9 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 10 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 11 years: 2,000 calories/day
  • 12 years: 2,200 calories/day
  • 13 years: 2,200 calories/day
  • 14 years: 2,400 calories/day
  • 15 years: 2,600 calories/day
  • 16 years: 2,800 calories/day
  • 17 years: 2,800 calories/day
  • 18 years: 2,800 calories/day

What does it mean to be moderately active? Some good definitions include:

  • Being moderately active 60 minutes a day, at least five days a week, for six out of eight weeks.
  • Having at least 13,000 daily activity steps on a pedometer.

What counts as moderate physical activity for toddlers and preschoolers? It includes structured and unstructured physical activity.

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Daily Calorie Needs for Moderately Active Girls

The estimated daily calorie needs for moderately active girls include:

  • 2 years: 1,000 calories/day
  • 3 years: 1,200 calories/day
  • 4 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 5 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 6 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 7 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 8 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 9 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 10 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 11 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 12 years: 2,000 calories/day
  • 13 years: 2,000 calories/day
  • 14 years: 2,000 calories/day
  • 15 years: 2,000 calories/day
  • 16 years: 2,000 calories/day
  • 17 years: 2,000 calories/day
  • 18 years: 2,000 calories/day

Some good examples of girls who are moderately active include those who are:

  • Moderately active 60 minutes a day, at least five days a week, for six out of weeks weeks.
  • Have at least 11,000 daily activity steps on a pedometer.

What counts as moderate physical activity for toddlers and preschoolers? It includes structured and unstructured physical activity.

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Daily Calorie Needs for Boys Who Are Not Active

The estimated daily calorie needs for boys who are not active include:

  • 2 years: 1,000 calories/day
  • 3 years: 1,000 calories/day
  • 4 years: 1,200 calories/day
  • 5 years: 1,200 calories/day
  • 6 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 7 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 8 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 9 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 10 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 11 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 12 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 13 years: 2,000 calories/day
  • 14 years: 2,000 calories/day
  • 15 years: 2,200 calories/day
  • 16 years: 2,400 calories/day
  • 17 years: 2,400 calories/day
  • 18 years: 2,400 calories/day

Boys who aren't active don't do any moderate or vigorous physical activity or any activity outside the activity of day to day living.

For example, walking from the car to the front door of school and from class to class is just part of the physical activity of your child's average day. However, if he rides a bike to school, that would probably count towards being active.

Whether your child is overweight or at a healthy weight, encourage him to be active, as it is a good healthy habit for everyone.

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Daily Calorie Needs for Girls Who Are Not Active

The estimated daily calorie needs for girls who are not active include:

  • 2 years: 1,000 calories/day
  • 3 years: 1,000 calories/day
  • 4 years: 1,200 calories/day
  • 5 years: 1,200 calories/day
  • 6 years: 1,200 calories/day
  • 7 years: 1,200 calories/day
  • 8 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 9 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 10 years: 1,400 calories/day
  • 11 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 12 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 13 years: 1,600 calories/day
  • 14 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 15 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 16 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 17 years: 1,800 calories/day
  • 18 years: 1,800 calories/day

Is your child active?

Whether your child is overweight or at a healthy weight, encourage her to be active, as it is a good healthy habit for everyone.

Sources:

Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020. USDA. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-2/

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/dataandstatistics.htm.

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