Like USA children, young adults snacking more now than they did two decades ago

the number of snacks per day rose 14 percent overall.

"Snacks going from a fifth of people's total daily caloric intake to almost a quarter might not sound like a lot, but when you look at how many calories that is and how they accumulate over weeks and months, it really is quite a bit," Zizza said. "You only need 3,500 extra calories to gain a pound."

The energy contribution of high-fat desserts to total calories from snacking decreased from 22 percent to 14 percent, but those foods remained the largest single source of energy, she said. The energy contribution of salty, high-fat foods doubled, and both sweetened drinks and alcohol -- mainly beer -- remained important contributors of empty calories.

"It's clear that the nation is in the midst of an obesity epidemic, but why is not so evident," said Zizza, who worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a dietician for seven years before returning to school. "Some people say Americans eat too much, while others say lack of exercise is the problem. Even genetics might play an important role."

Obesity is increasing in all age groups, she said. Being overweight chiefly results from an imbalance between the amount of energy taken in as food and the amount of energy expended in daily life activities. "Snacking in and of itself is not bad, but the choice of foods we make often are," Zizza said. "We can choose healthy snack foods, and if we do, they can become a really important part of a well-balanced diet."


Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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