Kids pack on the calories with frequent, unhealthy snacks

Children today snack an average of three times a day, and they are mostly consuming sugary beverages, cookies, cake, candy, salty snacks and other high-calorie junk food, a new study shows. In fact, children are now consuming 168 more calories from snacks than kids did in 1977, new research shows.

The findings confirm previous studies that indicate snacking may have run amok in the USA, and it may be contributing to the rising rates of childhood obesity. USA Today reports:

“Today we think we need to be eating all the time, so we have snack foods available for our kids constantly,” says Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina.

“Kids are not only snacking too often, but essentially the foods they are consuming represent almost completely unhealthy foods.”

He and his colleagues analyzed government data on the eating habits of more than 31,000 children, ages 2 to 18, from 1977 to 2006. Their findings, which are reported in the March Health Affairs, out today, show that children are consuming:

    • About 586 calories a day from snacks, compared with 418 calories from snacks in 1977.
    • An average of 2,111 calories for the entire day, up from 2,000 in 1977.
    • A greater percentage of their snack foods from sweetened beverages, juice, salty foods, candy and cereal than kids did in 1977.
    • A smaller percentage of their snacks from milk and other dairy products than kids in 1977.

Children today consume few whole fruits and vegetables as snacks, Popkin says: “They consume more french fries as snacks than healthy vegetables.”

About 98% of kids today snack, compared with 74% of kids in 1977. Popkin says snacks are important for toddlers and preschoolers because their stomachs are small and they need to keep their energy levels high.

Harry Balzer, vice president of the NPD Group, which does research on snacking, has a slightly different take on today’s snacking habits. He says his data show that kids do eat a lot of high-calorie junk foods but over the last 10 years “parents have been doing better and are cutting back on some of the high-calorie foods they are giving their children, ages 6 to 12, and serving them more fruit.”

So, what’s a family to do? What if you are your children are overweight or obese? I have a number of resources to assist you:

  • My Amazon.com best-selling book, SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat.
    • You can order the book here,
    • read the Table of Contents here, or
    • read the first chapter here.
  • My SuperSized Kids Web site, that you can find here.
  • My SuperSized Kids assessment tool that will help you evaluate the activity and nutrition habits of your family. That assessment tool is available for free here.
  • My 8-Week Family Fitness Plan (SuperSized Kids 8-Week Plan), available for free,here.

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