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Kids are getting more calories from snacks

March 8, 2010

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American children are snacking almost three times a day, consuming more than a quarter of their daily calories between meals, according to a new study of snacking trends since 1977. Children are now eating about one additional snack a day, the study found, and these chips, candy, desserts, and sweetened beverages were the biggest sources of increased daily calorie consumption in that time, coinciding with rising rates of child obesity.

Barry Popkin and Carmen Piernas of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill analyzed four nationally representative surveys that asked in person or by telephone what more than 31,000 children had eaten in the past day. Snacking of any kind swelled from 74 percent of children 2 to 18 years old in 1977 to 98 percent in 2006. The increased snacking during those years bumped up children’s food intake by an average of 168 calories a day, with the biggest boost among 2- to 6-year-olds, who averaged an extra 182 calories per day. In 2006, snacking accounted for more than 27 percent of children’s daily calories.

Snacks changed over the 30 years. Desserts were down, but salty chips and crackers were up. Children drank less milk and were less likely to eat fresh fruit than before, more often opting for fruit juice or sweetened beverages higher in calories but lower in nutrients.

BOTTOM LINE: Children are snacking almost three times a day, consuming 168 more calories a day between meals than they did 30 years ago.

CAUTIONS: The surveys depended on parents’ or older children’s recall of what they had eaten, so there could be inaccuracies.

WHERE TO FIND IT: Health Affairs, March 2

Common pain drugs linked to hearing loss

Men who regularly take common painkillers are more likely than men who don’t to have hearing loss, especially if they are under 50, a new study reports. Men had double the chance of being diagnosed with hearing loss in their 40s if they took acetaminophen, better known as Tylenol, at least twice a week compared with men who did not take the drug. The risk was 61 percent higher for men in their 40s if they regularly took ibuprofen and other drugs in its class of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and for aspirin users the risk was elevated by one-third.

Dr. Sharon Curhan of Brigham and Women’s Hospital led a team following almost 27,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Starting in 1986, when they were 40 to 75 years old, the men filled out questionnaires about their health and medication use, repeating the process every two years. In 2004 they were also asked if and when they had been diagnosed with hearing loss.

Nearly 3,500 men reported a hearing-loss diagnosis. Among all the men, compared with light or non-users, those who regularly took aspirin had a 12 percent higher risk of hearing loss; for those who took NSAIDS, it was 21 percent higher; and for those who took acetaminophen, it was 22 percent higher.

BOTTOM LINE: Men 40 to 75 years old who regularly took common painkillers were more likely than men who didn’t to suffer from hearing loss.

CAUTIONS: The study shows a relationship between painkiller use and hearing loss, but it can’t say one caused the other. The study included only men, most of them white, so it’s not applicable to women and people of other races.

WHERE TO FIND IT: The American Journal of Medicine, March

ELIZABETH COONEY

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