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Tackle That Snack Attack


WebMD Health News

April 6, 2001 -- Ravenous kids and teens are raiding refrigerators between meals, and they are snacking more than their predecessors.

According to a study of data from three national surveys, about 80% of kids snacked daily in the 1970s, and now more than 90% do. And over the past 20 years, the number of snacks that kids eat per day has increased by 32%.

What's worse, they are opting for high-fat, sugary foods that are loaded with calories, says nutrition expert and study author Barry M. Popkin, PhD. And this increase in snack attacks likely is contributing to the soaring rates of childhood obesity -- and its related complications.

Also, snacks of the 1970s were lower in calories than they are today. In fact, the amount of daily calories derived from snacking has increased by 30% in the years studied. And when compared with regular meals, snacks provided less calcium, which kids need to build healthy bone, and more energy from fat. The findings, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, include snack data from more than 21,000 children aged 2-18 collected during 1977-78, 1989-91and 1994-96.

Popkin, professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is unsure why kids are snacking more today then in the past, but he has some ideas. "Foods are around the home, kids watch TV and eat a great deal of the time, and parents do not restrict options. If kids play outside, they have fewer opportunities to snack, but passive activity seems to encourage snacking."

Also, the fact that moms and dads often work outside the home may make them more likely to purchase fattening, processed foods, Popkin speculates.

More than two-thirds of all snacks come from the home, he says. "A small proportion comes from schools. While the public health field is worried about vending machines in the schools, particularly selling sugared drinks, we do not know how important this is overall now," he says.

So what's a parent to do?

Start by purchasing fruits and vegetables, low-fat milk, and other healthful snacks, Popkin tells WebMD. "If you don't buy the Twinkies, your kids won't eat them," he says. "If both good and bad snacks are in a home, the kid will choose the bad ones. We need to reduce the opportunities when they can select the less healthful options."

Always "have plenty of fruits and vegetables available to eat," says Jeff Hampl, PhD, RD, a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association and professor of nutrition at Arizona State University in Mesa.

Marvin Terry, a father of two, says he stocks his refrigerator with carrots, celery, low-fat cheese, and low-fat yogurt.

"If my kids want a dry snack, I buy low-fat granola bars and other fat-free or low-fat chips," says Terry, of Bellmore, N.Y. "There's nothing for them that's bad.

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