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Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jul;86(1):41-7.

Daily food intake in relation to dietary energy density in the free-living environment: a prospective analysis of children born at different risk of obesity.

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University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.



Young children adjust their short-term intake in response to variations in energy density (ED; kcal/g) from preloads in laboratory studies. It remains unknown whether this compensation also occurs under free-living conditions.


The aims of the study were to test whether children aged 3-6 y regulate their habitual daily food (g) and energy (kcal) intakes in relation to ED and whether compensation differs for children born at different risk of obesity.


Participants were children born at high risk (n=22) or low risk (n=27) of obesity on the basis of maternal prepregnancy body mass index (BMI; in kg/m(2)). Daily ED, food intake, and energy intake were assessed from 3-d food records that either included or excluded beverages. Intake regulation was explored by relating children's daily food and energy intakes to ED and, more importantly, by examining residual scores derived by regressing daily food intake on ED.


For both risk groups, daily food intake was inversely correlated with ED (P < 0.05), whereas daily energy intake was not significantly correlated with ED at most ages (P>0.05). In analyses that excluded beverages, mean residual scores significantly increased from 3 to 6 y of age in high-risk children, which indicates relative overconsumption, but decreased in low-risk children, which indicates relative underconsumption (risk group x time interaction, P=0.005).


Children adjusted their daily food intake in relation to ED, which suggests caloric compensation under free-living conditions. Compensation ability may deteriorate with age in a manner that favors relative food overconsumption among obesity-prone children.

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