Cupcake parties make kids fat? What study says

Think you're being "nice" by letting your kid eat what he/she wants  - and how much? Maybe not if you care about their health. Parents should make sure kids know what's healthy and what's not and should ensure that kids have access to healthy fare. And don't forget to teach portion control.

(CBS) Cupcakes taste good, but a provocative new study suggests they're a bad choice for classroom parties. It showed that young children can get a whopping 20 percent or more of their daily calorie requirements from "low-nutrient, energy-dense" foods like cupcakes.

PICTURES: Oops! 8 ways parents make kids fat

Study author Dr. Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, called the finding shocking. "Twenty percent of daily calories?" she asked in an email to CBS News. "Come on. That's way too much. How about tiny treats so the kids will eat a decent lunch?"

For the study, researchers at Long Island University calculated four- to six-year-old children's caloric intake during four classroom celebrations at an elementary school in a low-income, urban community. The researchers - led by Dr. Kathy K. Isoldi, a registered dietitian and a professor of nutrition at the university - found that the average intake ranged from 259 to 455 calories.

The study was published online in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

According to WebMD, moderately active boys and girls between the ages of 4 and 8 need 1,400 to 1,600 calories a day

There's no doubt that excess calories are a big problem for American kids. Over the past 30 years, the rate of childhood obesity has more than tripled. In 2008, more than one-third of the nation's children and adolescents were overweight, according to the CDC.

"One birthday party may seem benign, but they can contribute way more calories than expected or needed," Dr. Nestle said. She called on schools to set limits on classroom party fare, adding that parents might be grateful if schools didn't expect them to contribute so much food.

But if cupcakes are out, what should teachers be serving? "Fresh fruit may be a reasonable addition to the party food table," the authors concluded.

Fruit instead of cake? What will kids say?

What do you think? Should teachers rein in classroom parties? Or should the "food police" leave cupcakes alone?