Caloric compensation in preschool children: relationships with body mass and differences by food category

Susan Carnell, Leora Benson, Edward Leigh Gibson, Lais Amaral Mais, Sarah Warkentin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

179 Downloads (Pure)


Maintaining a healthy weight may involve compensating for previously consumed calories at subsequent meals. To test whether heavier children demonstrated poorer caloric compensation across a range of conditions, and to explore whether compensation failure was the result of inadequate adjustment of overall intake or specific over-consumption of highly palatable, high energy-density ‘junk’ foods, we administered two compensation tests to a sample of 4-5 y olds. For Test A, preloads varied only in carbohydrate content and were organoleptically indistinguishable (200 ml orange-flavored beverage [0 kcal vs. 200 kcal]). For Test B, the preloads varied substantially in both macronutrient composition and learned gustatory cues to caloric content (200 ml water [0 kcal] vs. 200 ml strawberry milkshake [200 kcal]). Each preload was followed 30 minutes later by a multi-item ad libitum meal containing junk foods (chocolate cookies, cheese-flavored crackers) and core foods (fruits and vegetables, bread rolls, protein foods). Testing took place at the children’s own school under normal lunch-time conditions. Children were weighed and measured. Caloric compensation occurred in both tests, in terms of total, junk and core food intake (RMANOVA, all p<.01). Higher BMI z scores were associated with greater average caloric compensation (r=-.26; p<.05), such that overweight/obese children showed least compensation (41%), children over the 50th centile the next least (59%), and children under the 50th centile (80%) the most. For Test A only, obese/overweight children compensated less well than normal-weight children in terms of junk food intake (RMANOVA preload-by-weight group interaction p<.05), with no effect for core foods. Our results suggest that caloric compensation is consistently poorer in heavier children, and that overweight/obese children’s preferences for junk foods may overwhelm intake regulation mechanisms within meals containing those foods.

© 2017 Elsevier Ltd. The attached document (embargoed until 19/04/2018) is an author produced version of a paper published in Appetite, uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self- archiving policy. The final published version (version of record) is available online at Some minor differences between this version and the final published version may remain. We suggest you refer to the final published version should you wish to cite from it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-89
Issue number1
Early online date19 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017


  • Food choice
  • Compensation
  • Energy density
  • Adiposity
  • Child obesity
  • Body weight

Cite this