Apparently kids love snacks, now more than ever. According to a large study that looked at snack habits over three decades, children are now eating almost three snacks per day as compared with 30 years ago, when they ate an average of about one a day. And unfortunately, the snacks aren’t broccoli and apples.
The study found that snacks made up over a quarter of children’s daily calories — over 27%. The largest increases came from salty snacks and candy. Desserts and sweetened beverages were the major sources of calories from snacks.
The study was published in the March issue of Health Affairs; you can read the abstract here. Study researchers looked at national surveys of food intake in about 31,000 U.S. children, from 1977 to 2006.
One of the big findings came from preschoolers, who showed the largest increase in snacking. Children aged 2 to 6 consumed an extra 181 calories per day during snack time compared to two decades earlier.
Given the increase in US obesity rates and the health hazards excess weight brings — including increasing the risk of cancer — this study suggests unhealthy snacks may be one culprit in weight gain.
Twelve to 18 percent of children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 are obese and are at high risk for type 2 diabetes, asthma and even nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Obesity also increases risk for certain cancers – so the long term consequences are serious. Identifying these high risk children is only the first step in making a difference. The second part of the recommendation – referring them to appropriate programs – is really the key to this report.
The Task Force reviewed over a dozen studies on behavioral programs targeted to overweight and obese children and adolescents. They found that comprehensive programs using counseling, physical activity programs and behavioral management techniques were successful for modest weight loss that continued for at least 12 months after the program ended.
There are successful models and programs around the country for children and adolescents who struggle with overweight and obesity. But in areas where these programs aren’t available, what will the clinicians do once they’ve identified at risk children?
Hopefully this report will help spur the growth of effective comprehensive programs that involve the entire family so that any lifestyle and behavioral change made by the child will be sustainable.
What do you think of the new recommendations? Do you know of any comprehensive programs for children or adolescents in your community?
In this morning’s session, Barbara Rolls, PhD presented info about veggie eating from her study with pre-school children. She and her research team made changes to the kids’ normal lunches so they contained more vegetables and fruits and fewer calorie-dense foods.
The question – would they increase their veggies and fruits and would they eat more food overall to make up for fewer calories at lunch? The answer is “yes” to more veggies and fruits and “no” to eating more later in the day to increase their calories.
How to get children to eat their veggies? The successful method in this case may be that they served them veggies first – carrot sticks or tomato soup – before they received other foods.
Studies have shown the same ideas work for adults as well. A simple, easy to implement idea!