Finding a Balance
On this Page
- The Caloric Balance Equation
- Am I in Caloric Balance?
- Recommended Physical Activity Levels
- Questions and Answers About Calories
There’s a lot of talk about the different components of food. Whether you’re consuming carbohydrates, fats, or proteins all of them contain calories. If your diet focus is on any one of these alone, you’re missing the bigger picture.
Video – Finding a Balance
To support efforts to help individuals achieve caloric balance and to provide insights into ways in which communitites can be involved, CDC-TV has just released a new video in its “Health Matters” series “Finding a Balance” providing expert perspectives on caloric or “energy” balance and personal stories of how individuals have made changes in their lives to achieve this balance. Watch or download the video(http://www.cdc.gov/cdctv/healthyliving/healthyeating/finding-balance-obesity.html) (4:15 mins)
The Caloric Balance Equation
When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight for a lifetime, the bottom line is – calories count! Weight management is all about balance—balancing the number of calories you consume with the number of calories your body uses or “burns off.”
- A calorie is defined as a unit of energy supplied by food. A calorie is a calorie regardless of its source. Whether you’re eating carbohydrates, fats, sugars, or proteins, all of them contain calories.
- Caloric balance is like a scale. To remain in balance and maintain your body weight, the calories consumed (from foods) must be balanced by the calories used (in normal body functions, daily activities, and exercise).
|If you are…||Your caloric balance status is…|
|Maintaining your weight||“in balance.” You are eating roughly the same number of calories that your body is using. Your weight will remain stable.|
|Gaining weight||“in caloric excess.” You are eating more calories than your body is using. You will store these extra calories as fat and you’ll gain weight.|
|Losing weight||“in caloric deficit.” You are eating fewer calories than you are using. Your body is pulling from its fat storage cells for energy, so your weight is decreasing.|
Am I in Caloric Balance?
If you are maintaining your current body weight, you are in caloric balance. If you need to gain weight or to lose weight, you’ll need to tip the balance scale in one direction or another to achieve your goal. If you need to tip the balance scale in the direction of losing weight, keep in mind that it takes approximately 3,500 calories below your calorie needs to lose a pound of body fat.1 To lose about 1 to 2 pounds per week, you’ll need to reduce your caloric intake by 500—1000 calories per day.2 To learn how many calories you are currently eating, begin writing down the foods you eat and the beverages you drink each day. By writing down what you eat and drink, you become more aware of everything you are putting in your mouth. Also, begin writing down the physical activity you do each day and the length of time you do it. Here are simple paper and pencil tools to assist you:
- Food Diary[PDF-3KB](http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/pdf/food_diary_cdc.pdf)
- Physical Activity Diary[PDF-42KB](http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/pdf/physical_activity_diary_cdc.pdf)
Want to try an interactive approach evaluate your food intake and physical activity? Go to the SuperTracker. The site will give you a detailed assessment and analysis of your current eating and physical activity habits.
Physical activities (both daily activities and exercise) help tip the balance scale by increasing the calories you expend each day.
Recommended Physical Activity Levels
- 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
- Increasing the intensity or the amount of time that you are physically active can have even greater health benefits and may be needed to control body weight.
- Encourage children and teenagers to be physically active for at least 60 minutes each day, or almost every day.
- For more detail, see How much physical activity do you need?(http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/index.html)
The bottom line is… each person’s body is unique and may have different caloric needs. A healthy lifestyle requires balance, in the foods you eat, in the beverages you consume, in the way you carry out your daily activities, and in the amount of physical activity or exercise you include in your daily routine. While counting calories is not necessary, it may help you in the beginning to gain an awareness of your eating habits as you strive to achieve energy balance. The ultimate test of balance is whether or not you are gaining, maintaining, or losing weight.
Questions and Answers About Calories
Q: Are fat-free and low-fat foods low in calories? A: Not always. Some fat-free and low-fat foods have extra sugars, which push the calorie amount right back up. The following list of foods and their reduced fat varieties will show you that just because a product is fat-free, it doesn’t mean that it is “calorie-free.” And, calories do count! See FAT-Free Versus Calorie Comparison for more information.
Always read the Nutrition Facts food label to find out the calorie content. Remember, this is the calorie content for one serving of the food item, so be sure and check the serving size. If you eat more than one serving, you’ll be eating more calories than is listed on the food label. For more information about the Nutrition Facts food label, visit How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Food Label. Q: If I eat late at night, will these calories automatically turn into body fat? A: The time of day isn’t what affects how your body uses calories. It’s the overall number of calories you eat and the calories you burn over the course of 24 hours that affects your weight.
Q: I’ve heard it is more important to worry about carbohydrates than calories. Is this true? A: By focusing only on carbohydrates, you can still eat too many calories. Also, if you drastically reduce the variety of foods in your diet, you could end up sacrificing vital nutrients and not be able to sustain the diet over time.
Q: Does it matter how many calories I eat as long as I’m maintaining an active lifestyle A: While physical activity is a vital part of weight control, so is controlling the number of calories you eat. If you consume more calories than you use through normal daily activities and physical activity, you will still gain weight.
- What other factors contribute to overweight and obesity? A: Besides diet and behavior, environment, and genetic factors may also have an effect in causing people to be overweight and obese. For more, see Other Factors in Weight Gain(http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/calories/other_factors.html)
Want to learn more?
Cutting Calories at Every Meal(http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/cutting_calories.html) You can cut calories by eating foods high in fiber, making better drink choices, avoiding portion size pitfalls, and adding more fruits and vegetables to your eating plan.
Losing Weight(http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html) Even a modest weight loss, such as 5 to 10 percent of your total body weight, can produce health benefits.
Physical Activity for a Healthy Weight(http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/physical_activity/index.html) Physical activity can increase the number of calories your body uses for energy or “burns off.” The burning of calories through physical activity, combined with reducing the number of calories you eat, creates a “calorie deficit” that can help with weight loss.
1DHHS, A Healthier You, page 19. Available online: http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2005/healthieryou/html/chapter5.html
Tips for Parents – Ideas to Help Children Maintain a Healthy Weight
On this Page
- Why is childhood obesity considered a health problem?
- What can I do as a parent or guardian to help prevent childhood overweight and obesity?
- Want to learn more?
You’ve probably read about it in newspapers and seen it on the news: in the United States, the number of obese children and teens has continued to rise over the past two decades.1 You may wonder: Why are doctors and scientists troubled by this trend? And as parents or other concerned adults, you may also ask: What steps can we take to help prevent obesity in our children? This page provides answers to some of the questions you may have and provides you with resources to help you keep your family healthy.
Why is Childhood Obesity Considered a Health Problem?
Doctors and scientists are concerned about the rise of obesity in children and youth because obesity may lead to the following health problems:
- Heart disease, caused by:
o high cholesterol and/or
o high blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Sleep apnea
- Social discrimination
Childhood obesity is associated with various health-related consequences. Obese children and adolescents may experience immediate health consequences and may be at risk for weight-related health problems in adulthood.
Some consequences of childhood and adolescent overweight are psychosocial. Obese children and adolescents are targets of early and systematic social discrimination.2 The psychological stress of social stigmatization can cause low self-esteem which, in turn, can hinder academic and social functioning, and persist into adulthood.3
Cardiovascular Disease Risks
Obese children and teens have been found to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD), including high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and abnormal glucose tolerance. In a population-based sample of 5- to 17-year-olds, almost 60% of overweight children had at least one CVD risk factor while 25 percent of overweight children had two or more CVD risk factors.2
Additional Health Risks
Less common health conditions associated with increased weight include asthma, hepatic steatosis, sleep apnea and Type 2 diabetes.
- Asthma is a disease of the lungs in which the airways become blocked or narrowed causing breathing difficulty. Studies have identified an association between childhood overweight and asthma.4, 5
- Hepatic steatosis is the fatty degeneration of the liver caused by a high concentration of liver enzymes. Weight reduction causes liver enzymes to normalize.2
- Sleep apnea is a less common complication of overweight for children and adolescents. Sleep apnea is a sleep-associated breathing disorder defined as the cessation of breathing during sleep that lasts for at least 10 seconds. Sleep apnea is characterized by loud snoring and labored breathing. During sleep apnea, oxygen levels in the blood can fall dramatically. One study estimated that sleep apnea occurs in about 7% of overweight children.6
- Type 2 diabetes is increasingly being reported among children and adolescents who are overweight.7 While diabetes and glucose intolerance, a precursor of diabetes, are common health effects of adult obesity, only in recent years has Type 2 diabetes begun to emerge as a health-related problem among children and adolescents. Onset of diabetes in children and adolescents can result in advanced complications such as CVD and kidney failure.8
In addition, studies have shown that obese children and teens are more likely to become obese as adults.9, 10
What Can I Do As a Parent or Guardian to Help Prevent Childhood Overweight and Obesity?
To help your child maintain a healthy weight, balance the calories your child consumes from foods and beverages with the calories your child uses through physical activity and normal growth.
Remember that the goal for overweight and obese children and teens is to reduce the rate of weight gain while allowing normal growth and development. Children and teens should NOT be placed on a weight reduction diet without the consultation of a health care provider.
Balancing Calories: Help Kids Develop Healthy Eating Habits
One part of balancing calories is to eat foods that provide adequate nutrition and an appropriate number of calories. You can help children learn to be aware of what they eat by developing healthy eating habits, looking for ways to make favorite dishes healthier, and reducing calorie-rich temptations. Encourage healthy eating habits. There’s no great secret to healthy eating. To help your children and family develop healthy eating habits:
- Provide plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain products.
- Include low-fat or non-fat milk or dairy products.
- Choose lean meats, poultry, fish, lentils, and beans for protein.
- Serve reasonably-sized portions.
- Encourage your family to drink lots of water.
- Limit sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Limit consumption of sugar and saturated fat.
Remember that small changes every day can lead to a recipe for success!
Look for ways to make favorite dishes healthier. The recipes that you may prepare regularly, and that your family enjoys, with just a few changes can be healthier and just as satisfying. Remove calorie-rich temptations! Although everything can be enjoyed in moderation, reducing the calorie-rich temptations of high-fat and high-sugar, or salty snacks can also help your children develop healthy eating habits. Instead only allow your children to eat them sometimes, so that they truly will be treats! Here are examples of easy-to-prepare, low-fat and low-sugar treats that are 100 calories or less:
- A medium-size apple
- A medium-size banana
- 1 cup blueberries
- 1 cup grapes
- 1 cup carrots, broccoli, or bell peppers with 2 tbsp. hummus
Balancing Calories: Help Kids Stay Active
Another part of balancing calories is to engage in an appropriate amount of physical activity and avoid too much sedentary time. In addition to being fun for children and teens, regular physical activity has many health benefits, including:
- Strengthening bones
- Decreasing blood pressure
- Reducing stress and anxiety
- Increasing self-esteem
- Helping with weight management
Help kids stay active. Children and teens should participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most days of the week, preferably daily.11 Remember that children imitate adults. Start adding physical activity to your own daily routine and encourage your child to join you. Some examples of moderate intensity physical activity include:
- Brisk walking
- Playing tag
- Jumping rope
- Playing soccer
Reduce sedentary time. In addition to encouraging physical activity, help children avoid too much sedentary time. Although quiet time for reading and homework is fine, limit the time your children watch television, play video games, or surf the web to no more than 2 hours per day. Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend television viewing for children age 2 or younger.12 Instead, encourage your children to find fun activities to do with family members or on their own that simply involve more activity. See the Screen Time Vs Lean Time – info graphic
Want to Learn More?
Here are some additional resources that you (and your child) can use to help reach or keep a healthy weight through physical activity and healthy food choices! For Parents and Guardians
Child and Teen BMI (Body Mass Index) Calculator Worried about your child’s weight? For children, BMI is used to screen for overweight, but is not a diagnostic tool. For more, see About BMI for Children and Teens.
Childhood Overweight(http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/defining.html) This Web site provides information about childhood overweight, including how overweight is defined for children, the prevalence of overweight, the factors associated with overweight, and the related health consequences.
- Data & Statistics(http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/data.html)
- A Growing Problem(http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/problem.html)
- Strategies & Solutions(http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/solutions.html)
Physical Activity for Everyone(http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/index.html) Provides information about physical activity for you and your children.
How to Avoid Portion Size Pitfalls(http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/portion_size.html) Confused about portion sizes? Play the CDC’s portion control game!
ChooseMyPlate.gov Provides a tailored explanation of how to balance your meals and includes an interactive game for kids.
We Can! This national education program is designed for parents and caregivers to help children 8-13 years old stay at a healthy weight.
For Kids ONLY
BAM! Body and Mind(http://www.cdc.gov/bam/index.html) Have fun, stay active and healthy.
Blast Off Game Learn what it takes to blast off in the food pyramid space shuttle! Best Bones Forever! A bone health campaign for girls and their BFFs to “grow strong together and stay strong forever!”
1 Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Curtin LR, McDowell MA, Tabak CJ, Flegal KM. Prevalence of overweight and obesity in the United States, 1999-2004. JAMA 2006;295(13):1549–1555.
2 Dietz W. Health consequences of obesity in youth: Childhood predictors of adult disease. Pediatrics 1998;101:518–525.
3 Swartz MB and Puhl R. Childhood obesity: a societal problem to solve. Obesity Reviews 2003; 4(1):57–71.
4 Rodriguez MA, Winkleby MA, Ahn D, Sundquist J, Kraemer HC. Identification of populations subgroups of children and adolescents with high asthma prevalence: findings from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2002;156:269–275.
5 Luder E, Melnik TA, Dimaio M. Association of being overweight with greater asthma symptoms in inner city black and Hispanic children. J Pediatr 1998;132:699–703.
6 Mallory GB, Fiser DH, Jackson R. Sleep-associated breathing disorders in morbidly obese children and adolescents. J Pediatr 1989;115:892–897.
7 Fagot-Campagna A, Narayan KMV, Imperatore G. Type 2 diabetes in children: exemplifies the growing problem of chronic diseases [Editorial]. BMJ 2001;322:377–378.
8 Must A, Anderson SE. Effects of obesity on morbidity in children and adolescents. Nutr Clin Care 2003;6:1;4–11.
9 Whitaker RC, Wright JA, Pepe MS, Seidel KD, Dietz WH. Predicting obesity in young adulthood from childhood and parental obesity. N Engl J Med 1997; 37(13):869–873.
10 Serdula MK, Ivery D, Coates RJ, Freedman DS. Williamson DF. Byers T. Do obese children become obese adults? A review of the literature. Prev Med 1993;22:167–177.
11 http://www.aap.org/family/tv1.htm, accessed 12/18/06.
12 This physical activity recommendation is from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
Why is it important to eat vegetables?
Eating vegetables provides health benefits – people who eat more vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet are likely to have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases. Vegetables provide nutrients vital for health and maintenance of your body.
- Most vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories. None have cholesterol. (Sauces or seasonings may add fat, calories, and/or cholesterol.)
- Vegetables are important sources of many nutrients, including potassium, dietary fiber, folate (folic acid), vitamin A, and vitamin C.
- Diets rich in potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure. Vegetable sources of potassium include sweet potatoes, white potatoes, white beans, tomato products (paste, sauce, and juice), beet greens, soybeans, lima beans, spinach, lentils, and kidney beans.
- Dietary fiber from vegetables, as part of an overall healthy diet, helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease. Fiber is important for proper bowel function. It helps reduce constipation and diverticulosis. Fiber-containing foods such as vegetables help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories.
- Folate (folic acid) helps the body form red blood cells. Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant should consume adequate folate from foods, and in addition 400 mcg of synthetic folic acid from fortified foods or supplements. This reduces the risk of neural tube defects, spina bifida, and anencephaly during fetal development.
- Vitamin A keeps eyes and skin healthy and helps to protect against infections.
- Vitamin C helps heal cuts and wounds and keeps teeth and gums healthy. Vitamin C aids in iron absorption.
- Eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet may reduce risk for heart disease, including heart attack and stroke.
- Eating a diet rich in some vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet may protect against certain types of cancers.
- Diets rich in foods containing fiber, such as some vegetables and fruits, may reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
- Eating vegetables and fruits rich in potassium as part of an overall healthy diet may lower blood pressure, and may also reduce the risk of developing kidney stones and help to decrease bone loss.
- Eating foods such as vegetables that are lower in calories per cup instead of some other higher-calorie food may be useful in helping to lower calorie intake.
- Protein Foods