In a recent Health Affairs issue, Carmen Piernas, Ph.D. Student, and Dr. Barry M. Popkin, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Nutrition Department, published their findings of a four month long research study. This study was conducted with the goal of observing patterns and trends on snacking behavior among US children and adults.
This large study found that snacks now account for 27 percent of a child’s snack intake, and also that the number of children from ages 2 to 18 who snacked between meals has jumped from 74 percent to 98 percent between 1977 and 2006.
In a recent interview with Jacksonville Fresh Foods, Examiner.com, Ms. Piernas said, “The surprise within this study is that children decreased their calories from meals, while increasing their calories from snacks. However, the total increase of daily energy was significantly higher in 2003-06 compared to late seventies.”
When asked about the contributing factor to these trends, she states, “There is some debate here. First, very young children are not choosing what they eat, so they have what their parents are giving to them. If their parents have unhealthy nutritional habits, their kids will inherit them. On the other hand, older children, adolescent, and young adults eat what they want. This is another important point, because one of the easiest food sources to find in middle schools and high schools are vending machines, which have candy, chips and some other junk food that people really like.”
So, how serious are the results of this study? According to Ms. Piernas, “This is a serious issue, because if children keep increasing their number of calories per day, eating more high fat/high sugar snacks, and eating snacks more often, the trends we observed could lead to more unhealthy weight gain and obesity in the future.”
In order to curve this trend, she adds, “Parents should reduce the number of snacks their kids eat per day and also choose snacks like fresh fruit slices, carrots, low fat dairy products, and low fat milk as the main sources. If their children are physically active, it is okay to have two or three snacks per day, because they do need energy, but again make sure it is the right kind of healthy snack.”
This study is yet another reason to take charge of your meal plan, eat fresh, and put more thought and research in to what you and your family are consuming.