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Study: Surprising Findings About Kids and Snacking

Posted by Joan Salge Blake  February 6, 2013 12:38 PM

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Photo:  Adam Blake
According to the Economic Research Service, in the late 1970s American children consumed only one snack, on average, daily but today, they are gobbling up nearly three snacks totaling about 200 calories daily. Couple this snacking trend with the current sedentary lifestyle of kids compared to decades ago and it’s not surprising that over 30 percent of American children are overweight.  Yup.  Over a third of our youth are not at a healthy weight. 

Because of this snacking trend, the United States Department of Agriculture is proposing a new rule that limits the calories, fat, sodium, and sugar in the snacks sold to children from vending machines or other locations within the school during the day.  Not surprisingly, much of the foods that kids snack on are high in calories but low in nutrition per bite.  For example, a handful of potato chips (about a measly ounce) provides a whopping 150 calories and little nutrition, whereas a cup of broccoli is chock-full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and healthy phytochemicals and weighs in at about 20 calories.  More importantly, filling up on less nutrient-rich chips displaces other healthier foods such as veggies and dairy – two food groups that all Americans, young and old, are falling short of daily.  

Since research has also shown that increasing the variety of the foods available increases a person’s intake, would providing a variety of healthier snack foods encourage their consumption?  More importantly, would the kids really eat the healthier snack if it was offered?  Cornell University researcher Brian Wansink, PhD cracked open the chips, cheese, and veggies and found out.  

In this study published in Pediatrics, Wansink and his colleagues allowed over 180 children to munch to their heart’s content on a snack of either chips, cheese, veggies (carrots, peppers, broccoli), or a combination of cheese and veggies  while watching about 45 minutes of TV.  The children were encouraged to “eat all you wish” of their plentiful snacks.  Their level of fullness, also known as satiety, was measured.   The results uncovered that the children who had access only to the chips consumed slightly over 600 calories while those in the combo group (cheese and veggies) consumed only 170 calories to feel full.   Those in the cheese only group ate 200 calories whereas the veggies group consumed a mere 60 calories, on average, to feel full.   

When looking at the snack that gave the kiddies the most nutrient bang for the buck, the combo group was the big winner as it not only satisfied them and provided over 70 percent less calories than the chips group but the cheese and variety of veggies together also provided the most robust combination of nutrients of all the snack groups.  Cheese is an excellent source of calcium and protein, and veggies are vitamin, mineral, fiber, and phytochemical powerhouses.  Since those ages 2 to 19 are not meeting the recommended servings of dairy and veggies daily, offering these as a snack combo provides a calcium-rich, high fiber, and nutrient-rich alternative to a less nutritious snack daily.  

While it is well known that fat and protein (which are in cheese) and high-fiber veggies increase satiety or that feeling of fullness, Wansink thinks that there are a some other attributes in the combo snack that also encouraged its healthy consumption.  “The contrast in mouth texture between the cheese and the veggies combined to make it a satisfying snack,” explained Wansink.  He also added that “the cheeses were individually wrapped, which may have also helped to make each serving feel special and memorable.”  

Makes sense.  Good things always come in small packages.  Try a cheese and veggie combo as a snack and let me know as it goes. 

Follow Joan on Twitter at:  joansalgeblake

Originally published on the blog Nutrition and You!.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, is a clinical associate professor and registered dietitian at Boston University in the Nutrition Program. Joan is the author of Nutrition &You, 2nd Edition, More »

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