A new study published in Public Health Nutrition reveals that parents overwhelmingly under- or overestimate how many calories to feed their children, and those who made accurate estimates were not confident in their answers.

Researchers, led by Dr. Christina Economos, conducted an online survey of about 1,200 parents of 5 to 12-year-olds in July 2014. Parents were asked to estimate the number of calories recommended for a child's restaurant meal (including an entree, side dish, and drink), and to rate how confident they were in their response.

The accurate response range was 400-600 calories, while parents responded as follows:

* 35% answered in the accurate range * 33% underestimated the number of recommended calories (less than 400 calories) * 32% overestimated the number of recommended calories (more than 600 calories)

Only 26% of parents were confident in their answers, and just 10% were accurate and confident.

"Parents are the greatest influencers of their children's eating habits. We want to help them understand that they can make simple changes in their ordering patterns to keep children's meals within the recommended caloric range and encourage healthy habits overall," said Economos, director of ChildObesity180 and professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. "What we've seen in this study suggests that parents may not yet have the necessary context to put calorie information to good use, so it will be important to couple this information with additional outreach to parents."

Experts say these findings highlight the need for public health efforts to go beyond the numbers in helping parents make informed choices in restaurants. Last fall, ChildObesity180 piloted You're the Mom, a public health campaign that educates and empowers moms to choose healthier options for their children when ordering at quick-service restaurants. Advocating for simple swaps like choosing water over soda, You're the Mom celebrates mothers for the important role they play in their family and community. The campaign includes a digital resource hub at yourethemom.org.

Based at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, ChildObesity180 consists of top national leaders from the private, public, nonprofit, and academic sectors committed to developing, measuring, and implementing evidence-based solutions to reverse the alarming epidemic of childhood obesity in America. For more information, visit childobesity180.org.