June 16, 2010 / 1:29 AM / in 10 years

Study explores teenage boys' huge appetites

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Parents of teenage boys now have evidence to back up the claim they could be eaten out of house and home with a U.S. study finding 14-17 year-old boys will eat a lunch of 2,000 calories given the chance.

Researchers from the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development said teenage boys have a storied reputation for packing it away but there had actually been little objective evidence to confirm that this was the norm.

But in a lunch-buffet experiment involving 204 kids ages 8 to 17, researchers found boys routinely ate more compared than girls their own age and boys in their mid-teens were the most ravenous — downing an average of nearly 2,000 lunch calories.

Researcher Dr. Jack A. Yanovski said the pattern made sense, given that boys usually hit their growth spurt — putting on height and muscle mass — in late puberty.

"There's a lot of folk wisdom that says boys can eat prodigious amounts, but we haven't had much data," Yanovski told Reuters Health as his study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (here).

During two study lunches, the youngsters were told on one day to eat as much as they normally would during lunch and on the other day, to eat as much as they wanted.

Overall, the researchers found, boys ate more than girls.

Prepubescent boys — generally between the ages of 8 and 10 — averaged nearly 1,300 lunchtime calories, versus 900 among prepubescent girls.

Girls showed the biggest increase in appetite during early- to mid-puberty, roughly between the ages of 10 and 13. Girls that age averaged almost 1,300 lunchtime calories, and that figure was only slightly higher among girls who were in late puberty.

That pattern is in line with girls’ development, Yanovski said, as they tend to have their most significant growth spurts in early- to mid-puberty.

Boys, on the other hand, tend to develop later and their calorie needs appear to shoot up significantly in late puberty, or between the ages of 14 and 17.

While boys in this study showed little change in calorie intake between pre- and mid-puberty, their average lunchtime calorie intake reached nearly 2,000 calories in late puberty.

Even for active children, those 2,000 calories would be most of their daily energy needs.

“They really can eat,” Yanovski noted, adding that as long as teenage boys were healthy and normal-weight, a sudden surge in eating should not be alarming.

But Yanovski said boys who are overweight should have more limits on how many calories they consume. Studies suggest that a majority of overweight kids become overweight adults.

Reporting by Amy Norton, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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