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Energy intake variability in free-living young children
  1. S B Nielsen1,
  2. C Montgomery1,
  3. L A Kelly2,
  4. D M Jackson3,
  5. J J Reilly1
  1. 1
    University of Glasgow, Section of Human Nutrition, Faculty of Medicine, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
  2. 2
    University of Southern California, Institute for Prevention Research, Los Angeles, USA
  3. 3
    Public Health and Nutrition Research Group, Rowett Research Institute, Greenburn Road, Buckburn, Aberdeen, UK
  1. Susan Bjerregaard Nielsenst, Section of Human Nutrition, Faculty of Medicine - University of Glasgow, 1 Floor Tower QMH, Yorkhill Hospitals, Glasgow G3 8SJ, UK; s.nielsen.1{at}


It has been suggested that young children regulate their daily energy intake very closely with highly stable day-to-day total energy intake. This hypothesis was developed on the basis of an experimental study of 15 children aged 26 to 62 months, which reported a within-subject coefficient of variation (CV) in daily energy intake of 10.4%. We tested the hypothesis that free-living energy intakes were highly stable on a day-to-day basis in a sample of free-living young children from Glasgow, Scotland. In 101 children (47 boys) aged 2.6–6.8 years, energy intake was measured using multiple-pass 24-h recalls. Within-subject CV was 19.2%, which was significantly higher than the 10.4% reported by previously Birch and colleagues (p<0.0001). In addition, we identified four other studies on free-living children with within-subject CVs ranging from 16.1–28.7%. This evidence indicates that young children show a wide intra-individual variation in day-to-day regulation of energy intake in a free-living environment.

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  • Funding: The SPARKLE study was funded by Sport Aiding Medical Research for Kids (SPARKS) and the Rank Prize Funds.

  • Competing interests: None.