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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Temple: Research Sheds Light on Risks of Snacking Habits among Overweight Children

Consumers receive an array of options and information about snacking: what to eat, how often, and whether to snack at all. But for young children, the advice is clear: Snacking is important. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommend two snacks per day for preschool-aged children. Yet until now, surprisingly few studies have considered how snacking contributes to dietary intake among preschoolers.

A recent study by researchers at Temple’s College of Public Health, Baylor University and the University of Michigan published in Pediatric Obesity found that early weight problems may come not only from the quality and quantity of snacks children eat but from having a stronger appetite – a trait that may be inherent.

“While children consume a significant amount of energy from snacks and the snacks eaten tend to be of poor nutritional quality, the extent to which snacking contributes to excessive dietary intakes was unclear until now,” says Professor Jennifer Fisher, associate director of Temple’s Center for Obesity Research and Education (CORE) and one of the paper’s authors.

The study of 181 Hispanic 4- and 5-year-olds in Houston found that they got 28 percent of their daily calories from snacks and that those snacks are typically high in added sugar and fat. More than 40 percent of these children’s daily intake of added sugars came from snacks.

The study also went further, looking not only at what preschoolers were eating but how much they enjoyed eating – making this analysis the first to evaluate the role of the child’s appetite and weight in snacking.

Unsurprisingly, overweight children who reported enjoying food more also snacked more. They snacked more frequently and got more of their calories from sugars than other children. But the surprising, and perhaps telling, piece of the study is that normal weight children who snacked less than the overweight and obese children also reported lower levels of enjoyment of food.

“These findings may reflect a more general predisposition of overweight/obese children toward reward sensitivity,” the paper explains. Food enjoyment is a trait-like dimension of eating behavior that has a heritable component.

Dr. Fisher says the findings may help researchers, clinicians, and caregivers to recognize those children who may be most at risk to the pitfalls of snacking, such as eating high-calorie, low-nutrition foods. “Heavier children and those with greater motivation to eat may be susceptible to excessive intake from snacks,” she says.

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