Childhood obesity rates have tripled over the past 30 years, with about one in three American children currently overweight or obese, according to government figures.
Snacks now account for about 27% of the calories consumed by children, and total daily calorie intake has risen by an average of 113 calories from 1977 to 2006, Barry Popkin and Carmen Piernas of the University of North Carolina reported.
The researchers examined data on the eating habits of 31 337 children from four nationally representative surveys of food intake.
“The largest increases in snacking events have been in salty snack and candy consumption; however, desserts and sweetened beverages remain the major sources of calories from snacks,” they wrote.
They also found that snacking on fresh fruit has declined significantly compared to the late 1970s, while fruit juice consumption has increased.
Popkin and Piernas concluded: “Our findings suggest that children aged two to 18 are experiencing important increases in snacking behaviour and are moving toward a consumption pattern of three meals plus three snacks per day. This raises the question of whether the physiological basis for eating is becoming deregulated, as our children are moving toward constant eating.”
In addition, in terms of grams, portion sizes of snacks have increased, but calorie intake has dipped slightly. They wrote that more research is needed to find out whether this is the result of a shift toward smaller portion sizes, or if smaller snacks are being combined with more caloric beverages.
“There is minimal evidence on the health effects of these snacking changes,” they wrote.
Health Affairs 29, No. 3 (2010): 398–404
“Trends in Snacking Among US Children”
Authors: Carmen Piernas and Barry M. Popkin