The Caloric Conundrum

The fetishization of calories by generations of weight-conscious eaters seems to have brought disaster. Even with the help of fancy technology, people just don’t seem able to keep energy consumption on a leash. There is a happy medium between compulsively counting every calorie, and ignoring the whole issue. It’s easy to learn a repertoire of basic healthful foods and stick with them, in reasonable amounts, and get pretty much the same result with less stress.

The U.S. government’s 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee vindicates its existence by describing in elaborate detail how much worse child obesity is now than it was last week, month, and year.

A decade ago, the 2010 version of the same committee published a list of the top 10 sources of calories in the American diet, replicated here in its glorious entirety:

1. Grain-based desserts (cakes, cookies, donuts, pies, crisps, cobblers, and granola bars)
2. Yeast breads
3. Chicken and chicken-mixed dishes
4. Soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks
5. Pizza
6. Alcoholic beverages
7. Pasta and pasta dishes
8. Mexican mixed dishes
9. Beef and beef-mixed dishes
10. Dairy desserts

The 2020 report says,

The American dietary landscape has not changed appreciably in recent decades. Across the life course, it is characterized by a persistent overconsumption of total energy (i.e., calories), saturated fats, salt, added sugars, and alcoholic beverages among a high proportion of those who choose to drink.

The current lineup is not exactly parallel to the 2010 list, because it has been broken down into categories, namely, solid fats and added sugars, which are food components “of public health concern.” Also, there is more differentiation between age groups. In the solid fats area, the worst obesity villains are burgers and sandwiches; desserts and sweet snacks.

For all Americans older than two years, “mixed dishes” are the top source of energy intake. In general, we’re talking about casseroles, stews, frozen dinners, lasagna and other pasta dishes, meat pies, vegetarian pies, and even pizza. Every culture has its specialties, and in reality there are as many mixed dishes as there are cooks.

The second largest category differs by age. For kids from two through 19, the number-two villain is snacks/sweets. The report is replete with horrifying facts, for instance,

Beverages provide almost 1 out of every 7 calories consumed by U.S. youth ages 2 to 19 years.

Rather than counting, it might be useful to pay more attention to the end result of introducing these varying kinds of calories, whose nutritional qualities differ, into the body.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee,”, 2020
Source: “What Americans Eat: Top 10 sources of calories in the U.S. diet,”, 2010
Source: “Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee,”, 2020
Image by franchise opportunities/CC BY-SA 2.0

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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