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Excess Calorie Intake: A Potential Risk for All Age Groups

The major nutritional problems encountered in developed countries are excess calorie intake (especially of saturated fat, protein, and sugar) and insufficient intake of the fiber and nutrients provided by vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes.

Overnutrition begins early. Pregnant and lactating women are often encouraged to eat more because they are “eating for two.” While it is true that an expectant mother must provide nutrition for both herself and her developing baby, the increased energy requirement of pregnancy amounts to no more than about 300 calories per day. Excessive nutrient intake may result in excessive weight gain during pregnancy, which may increase the risk for cesarean section and other complications of pregnancy and delivery.

Overfed infants and children may develop poor dietary habits that have lifelong consequences. Higher-than-recommended calorie intakes at 4 months of age are associated with greater risk for obesity in childhood and adulthood. Therefore, caretakers should select foods that contribute to healthy body weights and avoid the desire to overfeed their children.

Adolescents face a similar problem. Many teens consume higher-than-recommended amounts of fat, saturated fat, sodium, and sugars, thereby increasing the risk for obesity, diabetes, and other health problems. However, in spite of their higher energy intake, adolescents are not well-nourished and frequently fail to achieve required intakes of essential nutrients, such as vitamins A and C.

Adults in developed countries are at particular risk for overweight and obesity. In Western countries, typical foods (e.g., meat, dairy products, vegetable oils, and sugar) have far more calories than traditional Asian or African cultures, where grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables are larger parts of the diet. Further, increased food portion sizes and fast foods add to the risk for obesity. As a result, this age group is experiencing an epidemic of obesity-related diseases, including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and cancer.  

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