Be sure to check out our new children and teen handouts at

News & Views on Child Nutrition
For Parents, Educators, and Health Professionals
by Connie Evers, MS, RD
Issue 44, March 2003
The Calcium/Body Weight Connection
Portion (out of!) Control
RECIPE: Make-Your-Own Nachos
New Resources from 24 Carrot Press (just in time for National Nutrition Month®)
Kids and activity update
Recommended Site:


The Calcium - Body Weight Connection

How can a mineral used by the body to build strong bones possibly have a role in weight control? Even scientists have been scratching their heads in response to this observation in recent years. But the relationship appears to be a real one. As early as preschool age, researchers have observed that higher calcium intakes and more dairy servings/day are associated with lower body fat. In one study, an extra serving of dairy (approximately 300 milligrams calcium) resulted in 1 kg (2.2 pounds) less body fat in the children. (1)

Studies with adults have shown a similar trend (2). A number of studies that were designed to look at the relationship of calcium and bone health were reanalyzed to see if calcium affected body weight. In his review of clinical studies, Heaney found that for every 300 milligram increase in calcium intake, adults had 2.5 – 3.0 kg (5.5 – 6.6 pounds) less body weight. He concluded that “improving the calcium intake of the U.S. population has the potential to effect a substantial reduction in the prevalence of obesity.”

New research has shed a light on the possible mechanism by which calcium affects body weight. Dr. Michael Zemel has done work that indicates that higher dietary calcium actually results in a lowered calcium within body fat cells, a change which alters the chemistry of the cell and promotes the breakdown of fat (3).

Intake Lags Behind
Food surveys show that few youngsters take in enough calcium to realize this weight effect or to maximize their lifetime bone development (4). At a time when they need calcium the most, kids are choosing soft drinks and other beverages over dairy products. While recent government recommendations advise a calcium intake of 1300 milligrams for children ages 9-18 (800 milligrams for 4-8 year-olds), nutrition surveys show a decline in calcium intake for this age group, with fewer than half consuming the recommended amount each day.

Practical Pointers for Boosting Calcium

Use Yogurt
With more calcium per ounce than milk, yogurt is also a source of riboflavin, protein, and other nutrients. Yogurt can substitute for mayonnaise and sour cream in salad dressings, vegetable dips, tartar sauce, and fruit salads. Fresh fruit added to yogurt makes a delicious topping for pancakes and waffles. Replace milk or other liquids in muffin and quick-bread recipes with plain non- or low-fat yogurt.

Milk Many Ways
The same child who shuns a glass of milk with a meal may enjoy his favorite cereal with milk. Other foods made from milk include puddings, tomato and other cream-based soups, macaroni and cheese, hot chocolate, flavored milk, mashed potatoes, pancakes and decaffeinated espresso drinks made with steamed milk.

Nondairy Calcium sources
Children who follow a strict vegetarian diet or suffer from lactose intolerance or milk allergy will find it difficult to reach recommended calcium levels without dairy products. Good nondairy sources include calcium-fortified soy or rice beverages, calcium-set tofu, calcium-fortified fruit juices, broccoli, bok choy, sardines, almonds and calcium-fortified breakfast cereals.

Supplement Caution
It's not a good idea to rely on supplements alone to cover your calcium needs. Overuse of supplements can pose a danger to children. To be safe, aim for a total calcium intake (including that from food and supplements) that is within the recommended range for your child's age.

1. Carruth BR, Skinner JD. The role of dietary calcium and other nutrients in moderating body fat in preschool children. Int J Obes 2001 Apr;25(4):559-66.

2. Heaney RP, Davies KM, Barger-Lux MJ. Calcium and weight: clinical studies. J Am Coll Nutr 2002 APR;21(2):152S-155S.

3. Zemel M. Regulation of adiposity and obesity risk by dietary calcium: mechanisms and implications. J Am Coll Nutr 2002 APR;21(2):146S-151S.

4. CSFII 1994-96, 1998 Data Set. Table set 17 (Food and Nutrient Intakes by Children 1994-96, 1998) Web site:, Accessed 02/03.

Dr. Michael Zemel has done work that indicates that higher dietary calcium actually results in a lowered calcium within body fat cells, a change which alters the chemistry of the cell and promotes the breakdown of fat (3).

Portion (out of!) Control

It's no coincidence that we've seen a dramatic increase in the size of both food portions and our waistlines in recent years. For just a few more cents, we can stuff in more food, beverages and calories.

It's not just our imaginations – researchers have documented that the size of food portions are increasing. Using data from government food intake surveys, one study showed that portion sizes in restaurants and at home were increasing at an alarming rate (1).

Simply put, larger portions translate into more calories. Researchers have shown that even as early as age five, children will eat more when presented with larger portion sizes (2).

Reality check
The next time you eat pasta, serve yourself what you think you will eat. Stop! Before you dig in, get a ½ cup measuring cup and measure how many servings are actually on your plate. Even when you are making nutritious choices, it is possible to eat too much. Become aware of portion sizes and check the label for serving size information. You may want to break out the measuring cup or scale occasionally for a “reality check” to see how many portions are really on your family's plate.

1. Nielsen SJ, Popkin BM. Patterns and trends in food portion sizes, 1977-1998. JAMA. 2003 Jan 22;289(4):450-3.

2. Rolls BJ. Engell D. Birch LL. Serving portion size influences 5-year-old but not 3-year-old children's food intakes. J Am Diet Assoc. 2000;100(2): 232-234.

RECIPE: Make-Your-Own Nachos

Healthy nachos are a great alternative to fat and sugar loaded snacks. Hungry kids & teens may not even notice that they are topping their chips with nutrient-packed ingredients!

1. Set out a large bowl of reduced-fat corn tortilla chips.
2. Provide some or all of the following ingredients in bowls on a table or counter.

  • refried beans
  • drained black beans
  • grated reduced-fat cheddar cheese
  • grated zucchini, carrots or other vegetables
  • cooked corn
  • avocado chunks
  • chopped romaine lettuce or fresh baby spinach leaves
  • diced tomatoes
  • salsa
  • nonfat plain yogurt or fat-free sour cream

3. Let everyone assemble their own nacho plate.


New Resources from 24 Carrot Press

Just in time for National Nutrition Month®, we have developed exciting new children and teen handouts. They come as PDF files via email so you will have them within hours of placing your order.

Fueling for Success: A Guide for Teens
This four-page interactive guide offers a practical approach to teaching good nutrition habits to teens. The guide includes 10 tips for active teens, “nutrition by the numbers” matching exercise, snack sense, a fast food dining activity, how to assess your nutrition condition, and useful tips, facts and recipes. $9.95

Food Fun!
Fuel for Fitness: A Nutrition Quiz Game
Geared for children in grades 2nd through 6th, Food Fun includes nutrition puzzles and activity ideas while Fuel for Fitness is a great interactive way to begin a discussion on nutrition. $5.95 each.

FMI or to order, visit



A big contributor to escalating child obesity is the lack of activity among our youth. The first two studies below further document the decline in physical activity while the third study demonstrates yet another benefit of increased fitness. Seems time to rethink priorities...

School P.E. coming up short
A new study documents that school physical education classes do not contribute much in the way of fitness for third graders. Researchers reported that, on average, children had 2.1 PE classes per week, totaling 68.7 minutes. For each class, students engaged in only about 4.8 minutes of vigorous physical activity, and 11.9 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
Source: Frequency and Intensity of Activity of Third-Grade Children in Physical EducationThe National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development Network, Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2003;157:185-190. Access the news release at

Physical Activity Trends in African-American and White Teens
Both African-American and white girls experience a dramatic decline in physical activity during adolescence with the greatest decline occurring in black girls, according to a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) study. By ages 16 or 17, 56 percent of black girls and 31 percent of white girls report they have no regular leisure-time physical activity, according to the study authors.
Source: Kim SYS, et al. Decline in Physical Activity in Black Girls and White Girls during Adolescence. N Engl J Med. 2002 Sept 5;347(10):709-715. Access the news release at

Fit Kids are Smarter Kids
There is a distinct relationship between academic achievement and physical fitness, according to a recent study by the California Department of Education. In the study, reading and mathematics scores were matched with fitness scores of 353,000 fifth graders, 322,000 seventh graders, and 279,000 ninth graders. The key findings:

  • Higher achievement was associated with higher levels of fitness at each of the three grade levels measured.
  • The relationship between academic achievement and fitness was greater in mathematics than in reading, particularly at higher fitness levels.
  • Students who met minimum fitness levels in three or more physical fitness areas showed the greatest gains in academic achievement at all three grade levels.
  • Females demonstrated higher achievement than males, particularly at higher fitness levels.

For complete study results, visit

Billed as “the teen resource for advice, health information, social interaction, and fun,” TeenGrowth lives up to its name. Developed by a team of pediatricians, this site addresses a variety of issues important to teen health such as safety, drugs, sexuality, emotions and nutrition/exercise.

The information contained in this newsletter is not intended as a substitute for medical and/or nutrition advice. See your physician and/or registered dietitian for individual health and/or dietary concerns.

©2003, by Connie Evers, All Rights Reserved. There is a modest reprint fee for reproducing the material in this newsletter in either print or electronic publications. Please send an email to for details and rates.

The FEEDING KIDS NEWSLETTER is published bimonthly by 24 CARROT PRESS . To subscribe to the email version, click here.

Connie Evers, MS, RD, is the author of How to Teach Nutrition to Kids, the companion LEADER/ACTIVITY guide and a number of additional resources located at

 Nutrition for kids home home