Thursday, February 21, 2013

Children Are Eating Less

In a surprising finding, the CDC reports that American children are eating less. The data come from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which collects information through in-home interviews with a nationally representative sample of Americans. Respondents are asked to detail what they ate in the previous 24-hours. The results show that, on average, boys aged 2 to 19 consumed 2,100 calories a day in 2009-10, down from 2,258 per day in 1999-2000 (a 7 percent decline). Girls averaged 1,755 calories a day in 2009-10, down from 1,831 a decade earlier (a 4 percent decline).

This is good news, right? Technically, yes. Childhood obesity has been a growing problem and cutting calories may help shed pounds. But there's a darker side to the cutback--the possibility that it reflects a declining standard of living among families with children.

Researchers have long known that increased calorie consumption accompanies economic development. This happens because food prices typically fall relative to income in developed countries, allowing people to eat more for less (for more about this, see the NBER study Why is the Developed World Obese?). Conversely, if food prices rise relative to income, then caloric intake should fall. Among families with children, median household income fell 11 percent between 2000 and 2010, after adjusting for inflation. Among married couples with children, spending on food as a share of median household income was stable at 13 percent during those years. But among single-parent families headed by women, spending on food as a share of income grew from 19 to 21 percent during the decade. This may be why American children are eating less.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Trends in Intake of Energy and Macronutrients in Children and Adolescents from 1999-2000 through 2009-2010

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