How Gender Influences Food Intake And Physical Activity Patterns In Kids

Written by Bhakti Kapoor
Published: May 11, 2023
An MSc in Food Science and Nutrition from the SNDT University Mumbai, and founder of HEALTHY HIGH - a virtual nutrition counselling platform.

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As parents and caregivers, we want our kids to grow healthy and strong. And the factors that can influence their overall health are dietary habits and physical activity patterns. But does gender also play any role in determining what our kids eat and how they engage in physical activities? Let’s understand how gender can affect energy requirements, food intake, and physical activity levels in kids and teens.

Gender influences food intake

As for food intake, gender can play a significant role in how much and the type of foods kids and teens consume. Generally, boys tend to have higher calorie requirements than girls due to their body size and greater muscle mass. Parents and caregivers need to recognise these potential differences in food preferences between boys and girls while also encouraging healthy eating habits that apply equally across genders. Providing plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources such as fish can help ensure adequate nutrient intake without overloading with calories or unhealthy fats.

So, does gender really influence physical activity?

A study, “Indian children’s perception of physical education and sports in school”, concluded that more boys (92%) than girls (81%) had a positive perception of physical education. Besides that, the girls also lost interest in physical education as they grew older. About 49% of the girls aged 6-10 years viewed the subject positively. There was a sharp decline in numbers to just 35% among girls in the age bracket of 11-14 years with positive perception of physical education. 

Hormonal differences between genders can also impact activity levels. Testosterone levels naturally promote muscle growth and strength building in males allowing them to excel at certain types of physical activities compared to females. Encouraging both boys and girls towards a variety of activities can help create healthy habits that will last into adulthood.

Energy Requirements

Energy requirements refer to the amount of energy (measured in calories) an individual needs to consume to maintain their body weight and meet their daily physical activity needs. The human body requires energy to perform various functions, including breathing, circulating blood, and digesting food. The human energy requirements of an individual depend on factors such as age, gender, height, weight, and level of physical activity.

For optimal growth and development and to maintain healthy body weights, teenage boys and girls require a sufficient diet. According to the Institute of Medicine, dietary needs are typically the same for boys and girls between the ages of 1 and 13, with the exception of calorie requirements. However, as girls and boys grow and reach the age of 14, there are some noticeable differences in their nutritional needs.

Calorie Requirements

During the teenage years, boys and girls require more calories than they did during childhood. For girls, their daily calorie requirements vary based on their age. 

The daily calorie requirements of teenage boys are generally higher than their female counterparts. These calorie requirements support their growth and development, particularly during puberty.

Age Required calories per day
Boys Girls
13-15 years 2400-3000 2000-2400
16-18 years 2700-3200 2100-2400

These higher calorie requirements are due to the fact that teenage boys typically have more muscle mass and engage in more physical activity than girls of the same age.

Protein Needs

Regardless of gender, children aged 9 to 13 need 34 grammes of protein every day. However, the protein requirements of teen boys between the ages of 14 and 18 are higher than those of teen girls in the same age group. According to the Institute of Medicine, adolescent boys and girls should consume the following grammes of protein per day:

Gender Age bracket Grammes of protein per day
Boys 14-18 years 52
Girls 14-18 years 46

Shellfish, eggs, soy products, low-fat dairy, legumes, nuts, and seeds are among the nutritious, protein-rich foods for teenagers.

Dietary Fat

Teenage boys and girls should consume 25 to 35 percent of their calories from dietary fat, according to the Institute of Medicine. However, because they require more calories overall, adolescent boys have higher total fat requirements than adolescent girls, including those for omega-3 fatty acids. 

Gender Calorie consumption per day Required grammes of fat as per the calorie intake
Boys 2500 69–97
Girls 2000 56–78

Adolescent boys require 1,600 milligrammes of omega-3 fatty acids daily, while girls require 1,100 milligrammes of these brain-healthy fats daily, according to the Institute of Medicine. Foods high in plant-based oils, refined fish oils, avocados, nuts, and seeds are a few examples.

Vitamins and Minerals

Except for iron, adolescent boys and girls have similar needs for almost all vitamins and minerals. Teenage females require more iron because of the blood loss caused by menstruation. They are at a higher risk of getting iron deficiency anaemia than any other group, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. 

Gender Age bracket Required milligrammes of iron per day
Boys 14-18 years 11
Girls 14-18 years 15

Lentils, spinach, raisins, and fortified breakfast cereals are some examples of foods high in iron.

Despite these differences in energy requirements, dietary habits, and physical activity patterns, parents must ensure that both boys and girls receive adequate nutrition and physical activity to support their overall health and well-being.

Here are some tips for parents and caregivers to promote healthy habits for both young boys and girls:

Encourage a balanced and varied diet: Both boys and girls require a balanced diet to meet their nutritional needs. Encourage them to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Limit processed foods that can contribute to weight gain and other health problems. Encourage children and teenagers to limit their intake of these foods and choose healthier options instead. 

Promote physical activity: Encourage children and teenagers for some regular physical activity, regardless of gender. Physical activity can help improve overall health, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and promote mental well-being. 

Provide a supportive environment: Create a supportive environment that encourages healthy habits for both boys and girls. Apart from that, motivate children to explore a range of physical activities and hobbies. 


To conclude, gender does play a significant role in determining the energy requirements, dietary habits, and physical activity patterns of children and teenagers. However, we must ensure that both boys and girls receive adequate nutrition and physical activity to support their health and well-being. By creating a supportive and healthy environment for children and teens, we can promote healthy habits that can last a lifetime.


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The views expressed are that of the expert alone.

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