Kids burn more fat, and need more fat, than adults

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Children burn more body fat day-to-day than adults do, underscoring their need for a little extra fat in their diets, according to researchers.

Though many adults try to limit their fat intake for the sake of their hearts and waistlines, experts recommend that parents allow more leeway in their children's diets.

Adults are advised to get anywhere from 20 percent to 35 percent of their daily calories from fat, while the recommendation for teenagers and children older than 3 is 25 percent to 35 percent.

Babies and toddlers need even more fat -- 30 percent to 40 percent of daily calories. The reason for the extra fat allowance is that fast-growing bodies need adequate calories and nutrients of all kinds for proper development.

The new study, published online by Nutrition Journal, supports these recommendations.

Researchers led by John C. Kostyak of the University of Delaware had 10 adults and 10 children follow a weight-maintenance diet for 3 days, and then measured each participant's metabolic rate during sedentary daily activities like reading and watching TV.

The researchers found that for every calorie expended, the children, who were 8 years old on average, burned more body fat than adults did.

According to Kostyak, prepubescent children may use up more fat than adults do by virtue of "normal growth processes," like bone development and the relatively higher rate of protein synthesis seen in children.

"Sufficient fat must be included in the diet for children to support normal growth and development," Kostyak said in a statement.

That said, he and his colleagues also caution that children should not be overindulging, particularly in fatty, sugary junk foods. Given the problem of childhood obesity, they note, it's especially important that children and teenagers eat well-balanced diets and get regular exercise.

SOURCE: Nutrition Journal, August 15, 2007.