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Study finds snacking is a major cause of child obesity

April 02, 2010

A new study has found that high-calorie snacking is proving to be a major cause of childhood obesity. Chips, candy and other snack foods account for up to 27 percent of the daily caloric intake for children, age 2 to 18, according to findings by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Federal nutrition surveys on food and eating habits of more than 31,000 children were studied from 1977 to 2006. Researchers concluded that childhood snacking trends are moving toward three snacks per day, and more than 27 percent of children’s daily calories are coming from snacks. They found the largest increases in salty snacks and candy, with desserts and sweetened beverages the major sources of calories from snacks.

The study, published in the March edition of the journal Health Affairs, is among the first to study long-term trends in childhood eating habits. “Childhood obesity affects an enormous and growing number of families around the world, but the vast majority of these cases are preventable, and can still be reversed,” says Yale Medical Group endocrinologist Sonia Caprio, MD, commenting on the study. “Understanding how children become obese or overweight in the first place is an important step toward breaking the cycle.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years, putting children at risk for diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. At Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital, Caprio is part of a multi-disciplinary team of clinicians who care for children and adolescents with type 2 diabetes and other complications of childhood obesity, providing services such as one-on-one counseling and a lifestyle intervention program. Caprio says children are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at younger ages than ever before, probably because of the obesity epidemic.

The Chapel Hill study suggested that children eat almost continually throughout the day. It revealed that between 1977 and 2006, children of all ages increased their caloric intake from snacks by an average of 168 calories per day, up to a total of 586 calories. The largest increase was found in children age 2 to 6, who consumed an extra 181 calories per day during snack time compared to two decades earlier.

Submitted by Mark Santore on January 22, 2014