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Math Model Predicts Effects of Diet, Physical Activity on Childhood Weight

Findings suggest major differences between obese adults and children (July 30)

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have created and confirmed the accuracy of a mathematical model that predicts how weight and body fat in children respond to adjustments in diet and physical activity. The results were published online in the July 30 issue of The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.

While the model may help to set realistic expectations, it has not been tested in a controlled clinical trial to determine whether it is an effective tool for weight management.

The model evolved from one developed at the NIH in 2011 to predict weight change in adults. The model for children considers their unique physiology, including changes in body composition as they grow. “Our model, which takes growth into consideration, helps quantify realistic goals for weight management in children and adolescents,” said lead author Kevin Hall, PhD.

The researchers analyzed data from children aged 5 to 18 years to create the model, and tested it by comparing predictions with actual changes in children as measured in clinical studies that were not used to build the model. The model accurately simulated observed changes in body composition, energy expenditure, and weight.

Model simulations also suggest that obese children may be eating far more calories for each pound gained, compared with adults. For example, children under age 10 were predicted to require more than twice the calories per pound of extra weight than an adult would need to gain a pound. Additionally, the model suggests that there may be therapeutic windows of weight management when children can “outgrow” obesity without requiring weight loss, especially during periods of high growth potential in males who are not severely obese at the onset of treatment.

Source: NIH; July 30, 2013.

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