Managing calorie intake is fundamental to achieving and maintaining calorie balance—the balance between the calories taken in from foods and the calories expended from metabolic processes and physical activity. The best way to determine whether an eating pattern is at an appropriate number of calories is to monitor body weight and adjust calorie intake and expenditure in physical activity based on changes in weight over time.
All foods and many beverages contain calories, and the total number of calories varies depending on the macronutrients in a food. On average, carbohydrates and protein contain 4 calories per gram, fats contain 9 calories per gram, and alcohol has 7 calories per gram. The total number of calories a person needs each day varies depending on a number of factors, including the person’s age, sex, height, weight, and level of physical activity (see Appendix 2). In addition, a need to lose, maintain, or gain weight and other factors affect how many calories should be consumed.
All Americans—children, adolescents, adults, and older adults—are encouraged to achieve and/or maintain a healthy body weight. General guidance for achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight is provided below, and Appendix 8. Federal Resources for Information on Nutrition and Physical Activity provides additional resources, including an evolving array of tools to facilitate Americans’ adoption of healthy choices.
Children and adolescents are encouraged to maintain calorie balance to support normal growth and development without promoting excess weight gain. Children and adolescents who are overweight or obese should change their eating and physical activity behaviors to maintain or reduce their rate of weight gain while linear growth occurs, so that they can reduce body mass index (BMI) percentile toward a healthy range.
Before becoming pregnant, women are encouraged to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, and women who are pregnant are encouraged to gain weight within gestational weight gain guidelines.
Adults who are obese should change their eating and physical activity behaviors to prevent additional weight gain and/or promote weight loss. Adults who are overweight should not gain additional weight, and those with one or more CVD risk factors (e.g., hypertension and hyperlipidemia) should change their eating and physical activity behaviors to lose weight. To lose weight, most people need to reduce the number of calories they get from foods and beverages and increase their physical activity. For a weight loss of 1 to 1½ pounds per week, daily intake should be reduced by 500 to 750 calories. Eating patterns that contain 1,200 to 1,500 calories each day can help most women lose weight safely, and eating patterns that contain 1,500 to 1,800 calories each day are suitable for most men for weight loss. In adults who are overweight or obese, if reduction in total calorie intake is achieved, a variety of eating patterns can produce weight loss, particularly in the first 6 months to 2 years; however, more research is needed on the health implications of consuming these eating patterns long-term.
Older adults, ages 65 years and older, who are overweight or obese are encouraged to prevent additional weight gain. Among older adults who are obese, particularly those with CVD risk factors, intentional weight loss can be beneficial and result in improved quality of life and reduced risk of chronic diseases and associated disabilities.
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