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Average child snacks nearly three times a day.

children snack an average of nearly three times each day, most often consuming desserts and sweetened beverages, and more than 27% of their daily calories are coming from snacks, according to the results of a study published in the journal Health Affairs.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that children have greatly increased their snacking habits since 1977, adding more than one snack per day along with 168 calories per day to their average daily snack intake.

Children aged 2-6 years had the largest caloric increase--182 calories--which the investigators said suggests they are developing an unhealthy eating pattern early in life.

"Kids still eat three meals a day, but they're also loading up on high-calorie junk food that contains little or no nutritional value during these snacks," Barry Popkin, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at the university, said in a statement. "Such findings raise concerns that more children in the United States are moving toward a dysfunctional eating pattern, one that can lead to unhealthy weight gain and obesity."


The researchers incorporated data from four separate food intake surveys conducted over the past 3 decades, and included 31,337 children aged 2-18 years in their analysis (Health Affairs 2010;29:1-7).

In 1977, 74% of children ate snacks, while by 2006, 98% ate snacks, according to the study. Also, in 1977, most children ate fewer than two snacks per day, while in 2006 they ate nearly three snacks per day, the study showed.

Salty snacks, such as chips and crackers, comprised the largest increase in the types of snacks children ate during the 3-decade period, the study found.

In addition, children are eating more candy at snack time, which Dr. Popkin pointed out can lead to both weight gain and cavities.

At the same time, children now are less likely to drink milk or eat fruit, instead consuming fruit juice or sweetened beverages such as sports drinks, the study reported.

Dessert consumption at snack time declined from 1977 to 2006, although dessert-type snacks still contribute more daily calories than any other category, the study found.

Additionally, the energy density of snacks remained fairly constant over the course of the study (see box below).

"Our findings suggest that children ages 2-18 are experiencing important increases in snacking behavior and are moving toward a consumption pattern of three meals plus three snacks per day," the investigators concluded. "This raises the question of whether the physiological basis for eating is becoming dysregulated, as our children are moving toward constant eating."



Major Finding: The children in this study ate nearly three snacks per day, compared with fewer than two snacks per day in 1977.

Data Source: Researchers incorporated data from four separate food intake surveys conducted over the past 3 decades, and included 31,337 children aged 2-18 years

Disclosures: Financial support for the study was provided by the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Popkin reported no relevant conflicts of interest.

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Title Annotation:CLINICAL ROUNDS
Author:Anderson, Jane
Publication:Pediatric News
Date:Apr 1, 2010
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