A recent study published in the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics examined how snacking between meals is improving the overall nutritional quality of American children’s diet.
Numerous studies over the past several decades have found the majority of kids in the US fail to meet current dietary recommendations – an issue that’s further compounded among low-income and minority households.
However, the prevalent all-day snacking habit could add the important nutrients that are sadly lacking to a child’s overall dietary intake profile.
A way of life
Snacking is quickly becoming entrenched in American life. According to a recent report from Innova Market Insights, 46% of Americans of all ages snack between meals in the afternoon, while 37% snack in the evening. The number of consumers who snack at lunchtime (23%), dinner (17%) and breakfast (8%) are also on the increase.
While desserts, sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and salty snacks are the biggest sources of calories consumed during a child’s snacking occasion, researchers from the University of Minnesota found that many other snacks typically consumed contribute – albeit in small quantities – to the child’s intake of protein, vitamins and minerals.
Using data from Phase I of Family Matters – a National Institutes of Health-funded observational study – against the Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2010), they found children experience an average of 1.8 snacking occasions per day, which, in total, contribute almost 400 kcal – and these are not all ‘empty calories’.
For example, the children in the study consumed around 1.08 servings of fruit or fruit-based snacks per day during both meal and snacking occasions. However, without snacking between meals, they would have only consumed 0.69 servings of fruit per day.
Snacking is also an important source of dairy, along with refined grains, which, according to Prof Glenn Gaesser from the Arizona State University, are not ‘the bad guys’ as perceived.
While Prof Gaesser certainly doesn’t discourage the consumption of whole grain, he claims the advice given by most health professionals to replace refined grains with whole grains could, in fact, cause consumers to overlook critical nutrients, like B-vitamins, folic acid, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin and iron.
Cross-sectional data came from Phase I of the Family Matters Study to analyse associations between snacking and the quality of American children’s diets, along with differences across ethnicities, sexes and weights.
Total daily energy (kilocalories) - based on HEI-2010 - were calculated from refined grains, fruit, vegetables and SSBs.
The study found boys snack more healthily than girls, and African-American kids are the biggest snackers among all the ethnic groups studied.
White space for innovators
The study found very few veggies were consumed as snacks – a big white space just waiting for innovative product developers.
“Enjoyment is still a very strong driver behind snacks purchase,” said Lu Ann Williams, Innova’s head of innovation.
“When asked why they buy salty snacks, 40% of Americans named taste and a further 22% said it was to treat or reward themselves, so innovators need to balance nutrition and taste to ensure that salty snacks remain competitive for all snacking occasions.”
The salty snacks industry is clearly working to meet this need, with launches of snack nuts and seeds growing at a CAGR of 11% between 2014 and 2018, according to Innova. Many mixes contain naturally nutritious fruits, nuts and seeds, but they can also include sweeter, more indulgent elements such as chocolate-coated ingredients.
Authors: Dr Katie A. Loth, Allan Tate, Amanda Trofholz, et al
Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics