If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you know how much effort it takes to shed even a few pounds.
But for kids, losing weight is harder than most people realize.
A new study published in the “Pediatrics” medical journal says overweight teenagers are eating less than their healthy peers, but still weigh more.
It’s kind of a backwards realization towards childhood obesity.
Overweight teenagers are already consuming fewer calories than their peers, but according to doctors and dietitians, once kids are overweight, shedding those unwanted pounds takes more than cutting back on calories.
And while it’s not a surprise to find out a child’s weight is caused by what they eat and how much they eat.
But when it comes to losing those pounds, that’s not as simple.
"It takes a lot of calories to get there, but it doesn't take a lot of calories to maintain and that even extends into adulthood,” said Pediatrician Dr. Kaye Sykes.
After analyzing more than 19,000 children from toddlers to teens, researchers found out obese girls ages 12 to 14 eat 110 fewer calories while obese boys ages 15 to 17 consume 375 fewer calories than their heavy weight peers.
While it sounds surprising, doctors say there’s more to losing weight than just cutting calories.
"Your metabolism is such that yes or no, it may be high, low or in between, you've already put on all this excess weight, you're not going to be as active,” Dr. Sykes said.
And without that physical activity, the body doesn’t need as many calories to function.
You're not going to be out there running the 4x40, you're not going to be out there swimming laps, competing for Olympics. You're going to be sitting and that's another lifestyle problem that we have,” Dr. Sykes said.
Along with a lack of physical exercise, dietitians say what kids eat makes a big difference.
A healthy diet is better than a restricted diet.
"We don't want to put a kid on a diet. We want to make sure we offer healthy foods, lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains and try to limit the sugary drinks and sugary foods,” said Registered Dietitian Christine Dodd.
For most kids, a 2,000 calorie diet of healthy foods should be sufficient.
And dietitians say there is an easy trick to figure out if you’re getting the right foods.
"A great way to eat is when you look at the plate, try to make half the plate fruits and vegetables. Make a fourth a protein source and the other fourth a whole grain or carbohydrate source. And then add a dairy and you're set to go."
And doctors say childhood obesity is especially problematic because once fat cells are created, they last a lifetime.
And if you manage to shed those pounds, it’s much easier to put the weight back on if you’re not careful.