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UNC scientists find U.S. children snack more now than they did two decades ago

CHAPEL HILL -- Using information from three national surveys, scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have confirmed what a lot of people have suspected -- U.S. children snack more now than they did in the late 1970s.

Their research, the first large systematic study of snacking patterns and trends among children in this country, highlights anew a growing threat to the nation's health, the scientists said. Data from more than 21,000 children ages 2 to 18 were analyzed.

"The average size of snacks and energy per snack remained relatively constant, but since the number of times kids eat between meals increased, the average daily energy intake from snacks grew, and that's not good," said Dr. Barry Popkin. "When compared to regular meals, the snacks provided less calcium, more energy and a higher proportion of energy from fat."

Since snacking is so pervasive among children, adults should emphasize and buy healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables instead of convenience foods high in fat, salt and sugar, said Popkin, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the UNC schools of public health and medicine.

The Journal of Pediatrics carries a report on the research in its April issue. Besides Popkin, authors are Dr. Anna Maria Siega-Riz, assistant professor of nutrition and of maternal and child health, and Lisa Jahns, a dietitian and doctoral student in nutrition. "Rapid increases over the past three decades in childhood obesity and related complications have led to increased concern over the diets of American children," the three wrote. "Among school-aged children and adolescents, the proportion classified as overweight has grown from 8 percent to 14 percent for children and from 6 percent to 12 percent for adolescents between 1976-80 and 1988-94." The rate of increase in overweight has grown further between 1994 and 1999 in results recently reported by the federal government, Popkin said.

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Contact: David Williamson
david_williamson@unc.edu
919-962-8596
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
5-Apr-2001


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