Chapel Hill, NC—A study recently published by researchers at the University of North Carolina has found that children are snacking more frequently between meals. The study, conducted with data from over 31,000 children from two to 18 years old, reports that children in the United States are eating an average of three snacks a day, on top of their three regular meals. 

These snacks account for 27% of children’s daily caloric intake. Researchers Carmen Piernas and Barry Popkin reported that children increased their daily caloric intake from snacks by an average of 168 calories from previous studies. Most of these calories are being consumed in desserts and sweetened beverages.

The earliest survey looked at for this study, which took place from 1974 to 1978, showed that 74% of children ages two to 18 snacked on food outside of their three regular meals. The most recent survey, which took place from 2003 to 2006, showed that 98% of children snacked in between meals. 

Another problem with these snacks is the foods that are being eaten. Instead of eating fruits and vegetables, research found that children are eating foods with large amounts of calories, but with little nutritional value. The largest increase was found in the consumption of salty snacks and candy. Piernas voiced concern over the increased intake of candy, saying that it “can lead not only to weight gain but to tooth decay.” 

As well as eating unhealthy foods, children are also reaching for less nutritional beverages. Instead of drinking milk, children are more likely to choose sugary drinks.

Popkin suggests that parents and schools should take steps to lessen the amount of junk food available to children and regulate snacks in an attempt to decrease this unhealthy habit.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, May 2010