Background: Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for energy aim to balance energy expenditure at a level of physical activity consistent with health and support adequate growth in children. DRIs were derived from total energy expenditure (TEE) measured by using the doubly labeled water (DLW) method; however, the database was limited in the 3–5-y-old range.
Objective: We reexamined the DRI for energy for preschool-age children.
Design: Ninety-seven healthy, normal-weight, preschool-age children (mean ± SD age: 4.5 ± 0.9 y) completed a 7-d DLW protocol while wearing accelerometer and heart rate–monitoring devices.
Results: Mean TEE and physical activity level (PAL) averaged 1159 ± 171 kcal/d and 1.34 ± 0.14, respectively. TEE predicted by DRI equations agreed with observed TEE (+34 kcal/d or 3%) if the sedentary PAL category was assumed but was overestimated by using the low active (+219 kcal/d or 19%), active (398 kcal/d or 34%), and very active (593 kcal/d or 51%) PAL categories. PAL categories were redefined on the basis of the narrower PAL range observed in preschoolers (range: 1.05–1.70) compared with older children and adults (range: 1.0–2.5). Sex-specific nonlinear regression models were newly developed to predict TEE from age, weight, height, and new PAL categories. The mean absolute error of TEE prediction equations was 0.00 ± 35 kcal/d or 0.1 ± 3%. Ancillary measures, such as total accelerometer counts and total daily steps, that were significantly correlated (P = 0.01–0.05) with TEE (r = 0.26–0.38), TEE per kilogram (r = 0.31–0.41), and PAL (r = 0.36–0.48) may assist in the classification of preschoolers into PAL categories.
Conclusions: Current DRIs for energy overestimate energy requirements of preschool-age children because of the erroneous classification of children into PAL categories. New TEE prediction equations that are based on DLW and appropriate PAL categories are recommended for preschool-age children. This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as H12067.