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Leanest Teens Are Biggest Energy Users And Consumers

April 6, 2007
Medical College of Georgia
Teens who are most physically active and consume the most calories are the leanest, researchers say.

Inger Stallmann-Jorgensen, research dietitian and the paper's first author and Dr. Paule Barbeau, exercise physiologist at the Medical College of Georgia and corresponding author on the paper.
Credit: Image courtesy of Medical College of Georgia

Teens who are most physically active and consume the most calories are the leanest, researchers say.

“The take-home message would be to  encourage your child to do as much vigorous physical activity as possible,  including at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity on a  daily basis,” says Dr. Paule Barbeau, exercise physiologist at the Medical  College of Georgia and corresponding author on the paper in the April issue of The International Journal of Obesity.  “This allows your child to eat more calories, which encourages more healthy  eating habits while remaining in energy balance.”

Unfortunately, even the leanest of  the 661 healthy black and white Augusta  teens didn’t have great eating habits, researchers note.

In fact, researchers couldn’t compare the diet quality of leaner and  chubbier teens because overall, it was so poor, says Inger Stallmann-Jorgensen,  research dietitian and the paper’s first author.

“The majority of the kids did not  have enough whole-grain food, they did not have enough low-fat dairy products,  they did not have enough fruits and vegetables,” Ms.  Stallmann-Jorgensen says. Instead, most days  were packed with starches, salty snacks, soft drinks and “fruit-ades” such as  lemonade that didn’t actually contain fruit juice.

“Eating habits formed during our youth tend to stay with us into adulthood,  so this does not bode well for prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes  and heart disease,” Ms. Stallmann-Jorgensen notes.

Researchers queried participants about their physical activity and food  intake over at least four 24-hour periods and calculated body fat percentages on  all participants. They performed magnetic resonance imaging exams on 434 study  participants to measure visceral adipose tissue. Visceral adiposity, found in  and around organs in the abdominal cavity, is closely linked to general obesity  but is considered the worst fat because it is more metabolically active,  ramping up pro-inflammatory markers and dramatically increasing the risk of  cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, Ms. Stallmann-Jorgensen says.

“Eight- to 12-year-olds can have enough that it’s more highly correlated  with cardiovascular risk factors than overall percent body fat,” says Dr.  Barbeau. Even relatively thin children can have enough visceral fat to be a  health problem, she says.

Interestingly they found teens who ate the most – again often the highest  energy users – tended to have the least visceral body fat. The good news is  that visceral fat is the easiest to lose, particularly for males, says Dr.  Barbeau.

Also interestingly, some teens who ate the least – they also moved the  least and tended to be female – had the highest percent body fat. “If you think  about teenagers trying to restrict their energy intake, they usually are not  going to be doing a lot of physical activity to stay at that energy balance  because they will be tired,” Ms. Stallmann-Jorgensen says. “We really expected  the energy intake to be lower in kids who were leaner but when we started  thinking about it we realized the leaner kids were at a different energy balance  than the others,” Dr. Barbeau notes.

On average, female study participants had 30 percent body fat (high for  females) and males had a healthier 18 percent. Genetics also plays a role in  the body fat equation, researchers note.

About 36 percent of high-school students – 28 percent of females and 44  percent of males – meet recommendations for daily physical activity, according  to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2005 National Youth Risk  Behavior Survey. On school days, 21 percent of students play video or computer  games or use a computer three or more hours daily for non-school related work and 37 percent watch three or more hours of television, the survey shows.

In the study, common teen activity included watching a movie or spending  time with friends. The most physically active teens tended to be males who participated  in activities such as weight lifting and organized sports as well as activities  they could do alone or with a friend such as running and swimming.  

Parents can help improve their children’s habits by improving their own eating  and physical activity habits, the researchers agree. “Children will follow  examples set by parents and other caregivers,” Ms. Stallmann-Jorgensen says.  

Other authors include Dr. Bernard Gutin, Professor Emeritus; Jeannie L.  Hatfield-Laube, research dietitian; Matthew C. Humphries, project manager; and  Maribeth H. Johnson, biostatistician.

The research was funded by the  National Institutes of Health.

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Materials provided by Medical College of Georgia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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Medical College of Georgia. "Leanest Teens Are Biggest Energy Users And Consumers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 April 2007. <>.
Medical College of Georgia. (2007, April 6). Leanest Teens Are Biggest Energy Users And Consumers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 23, 2017 from
Medical College of Georgia. "Leanest Teens Are Biggest Energy Users And Consumers." ScienceDaily. (accessed May 23, 2017).