About The Buzz: Where Kids Eat Impacts Calorie Consumption?

TheBUZZ Where kids eat impacts calorie consumption?


Consuming lots of highly processed foods displaces healthier options and often causes calorie intake to exceed calorie needs, leading to weight gain.


Solid fats and sugars, collectively referred to as “empty calories,” play an important role in overall caloric intake because they contribute calories without providing essential nutrients. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that empty calories should only make up 8-19% of your total energy intake. Children in the United States – 97% – exceed the maximum recommendation for these fats and sugars. In fact, empty calories comprise nearly 33% of their overall calories.


Researchers analyzed national data to better understand how the different places children eat impact their calorie consumption.* They sought to identify which foods at various locations were the top contributors of empty calories. The amount of empty calories children consumed at stores, schools, and fast food restaurants were not that different. At each location, average empty calorie intake exceeded recommendations. Below are the top foods from each location.

Where Kids Get Their Empty Calories

  • Stores: sugary drinks, grain desserts, high-fat milk, sandwiches, and candy.
  • Schools: high-fat milk, pizza, sandwiches, grain desserts, and quick breads.
  • Fast Food Restaurants: french fries, sugary drinks, pizza, sandwiches, and hamburgers.

Why is this Important?
This study is important because identifying foods with empty calories can shape future policy efforts to improve the food environment for our nation’s youth.


Many may feel that children are just picky eaters who avoid eating fruits and vegetables, but eating habits are established early in life and it is important for healthy behaviors to be established sooner rather than later. Current eating habits set the stage for health outcomes down the road. As adults, we need to set the bar higher and not only expect, but provide opportunities for children to eat healthy, nutritious foods.

7 Ways to Reduce Empty Calories in Your Child’s Diet

  1. Pack lunches for school and days when you need to eat on the go.
  2. Strive to fill half their plates with fruits and veggies during every snack and meal.
  3. Place fruits and vegetables in prominent places in your home.
  4. Make grocery trips a family activity.
  5. Cook as a team.
  6. Try new healthy recipes that include their favorite fruits and veggies.
  7. Check out our healthy eating resource guide for parents.


*Poti, J.M., Slining, M.M., & Popkin, B.M. (2014). Where are kids getting their empty calories? Stores, schools, and fast-food restaurants each played an important role in empty calorie intake among US children during 2009-2010. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 114(6), 908-917. View Abstract

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