Nearly everyone is the aware of the alarming rate of childhood obesity, and according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 32% of US children are overweight or obese. One theory of the increased childhood obesity rate is that children are snacking much more than used to, and a new study found that the type of snack being offered can make a big difference on how much kids eat.
Many parents try to make sure the snacks kids eat are healthy ones. Kids today, however, snack about 3 times a day, compared to 30 years ago where they only ate one snack a day. Restricting or limiting kids’ snacking can backfire, as kids whose parents regulate snacking eat more unhealthy snacks when in an unregulated environment than the kids with unrestrictive parents.
Researchers Brian Wansink, Ph.D., Mitsuru Shimizu, Ph.D., and Adam Brumberg examined whether or not certain types of snacks could be consumed that would allow children to feel full yet consume fewer calories. About 200 students in third through sixth grade were given a plate of vegetables, a plate of chips, or a plate of veggies and cheese while watching their favorite after-school cartoon. The kids were asked about their fullness when the experiment started, after one episode of a cartoon, and then again after a second episode.
The study revealed that the kids who ate the veggie and cheese plate needed fewer calories to achieve satiety than the kids who ate potato chips. In addition, children who were from families who spent less time eating meals together (low-involvement) ate more potato chips than other kids from the potato chip group. Additionally, overweight and obese children at 76% few calories when given the cheese and veggie snack, while the other kids noted a 60% reduction in calories even though both groups reported feeling full.
While Mum Mum’s would not suggest allowing children to eat while watching TV, the study authors offer the following additional suggestions to help children snack smart:
- Offer nutritious snacks instead of eliminating snacks altogether
- Substitute healthy snacks for unhealthy ones (like chips) on a regular basis
- Offer small portions with a variety of healthy snacks – like different kinds of fruits and vegetables
- Encourage children to be mindful of internal hunger and satiety cues