ASPPH logo


Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UNC Researchers Find Decline in Preschoolers’ Calorie Intake in Last Decade, But Urge Watchfulness Regarding Recent Trends

A study at UNC acknowledges progress in efforts to fight childhood obesity but suggests that researchers keep a close eye on recent dietary trends among preschool children. The study, “10-year beverage intake trends among U.S. preschool children: Rapid declines between 2003 and 2010, but stagnancy in recent years,” was published online March 2 in the journal Pediatric Obesity.


[Photo: A UNC study reports that preschoolers’ calorie intake fell by 132 calories per day between 2003 and 2012, with calorie intake from beverages falling 55 calories per day. While the changes suggest improvements in the diets of preschool children, the authors were wary of trends in 2009-2012 that showed slight increases in total calorie intake. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture.]

Obesity rates among U.S. preschool children declined between 2003 and 2010 and plateaued from 2010 to 2012. Researchers looked at trends in beverage and food intakes during this period, using dietary data derived from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. In addition to analyzing overall trends in intake among the preschoolers, researchers examined how eating location (home vs. away from home) and source (from stores, restaurants, or cafeterias, for example) may have contributed to dietary changes during this period. They especially considered the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, milks (low-fat and whole-fat), juices, and solid foods.

Lead author Mr. Christopher Ford, doctoral candidate in nutrition epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and research assistant with the UNC Food Research Program, noted that total caloric intake fell by 132 calories per day among U.S. preschoolers, with intake of beverages falling by 55 calories per day between 2003 and 2012. Declining intake of total sugar-sweetened beverages, including soft drinks and juice drinks, as well as higher-fat milk, were major contributors to the trend in beverage intake. Researchers noted that much of the recent trend was attributed to decreases in the amounts of food and beverages consumed at home, as well as decreasing amounts purchased from stores.

While these changes would suggest improvements in the diets of preschool children over the last decade, the authors were wary of dietary trends in the most recent years. Notably, intake of total calories and calories from food only (not beverages) trended upward between 2009 and 2012, although the changes were not deemed significant. The authors would like to see further studies to explore more recent dietary changes among U.S. preschool children as data become available.

Mr. Ford’s team included Gillings School nutrition faculty members Dr. Shu Wen Ng, research assistant professor, and Dr. Barry Popkin, W.R. Kenan Distinguished Professor.

Read more: