A Child’s Brain Consumes Half Their Energy

You are probably aware of the simple weight management theory of “calories in vs calories out,” which basically suggests that to avoid weight gain you want to make sure that you are not taking in significantly more calories than you are expending.  Similarly, if you want to lose weight, you want to limit the calories you take in and use more of your stored calories (in the form of fat).

It is a simple philosophy but not one that is without merit; and it serves as the basis for a new understanding about the way very young children grow.  Data shows that the brain uses roughly half of the body’s total energy during the early childhood development years. 

Co-authored by Christopher Kuzawa, of Northwestern University and Clancy Blair of New York University School of Medicine, the study proposes that variations in the energy needs of the brain development of children could influence the way they expend patterns of energy. Perhaps more importantly, though, this link could also help us to better understand weight gain. 

A Weinberg College of Arts Sciences professor anthology, Kuzawa is also a faculty fellow at the Northwestern University Institute for Policy Research. He says, “We all know that how much energy our bodies burn is an important influence on weight gain.” 

When kids are just five years old, he says, their brains expend nearly half of their bodies’ energy. But even with this knowledge, we still do not know how much of the brain’s existing energy expenditure varies between different children.  

This, of course, provides a big opportunity to gain a new understanding of energy expenditure.  It could lead to development of better programs designed to stimulate brain activity in young children through various types of enrichment. This might include things like preschool programs (like Head Start) that could influence how the brain develops patterns of energy use.  Not only could this improve brain development, but it could influence healthier energy metabolism throughout their lives. 

Kuzawa goes on to say, “We believe it plausible that increased energy expenditures by the brain could be an unanticipated benefit to early child development programs, which, of course, have many other demonstrative benefits.”

The study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.