Snacks Improve Kids' Nutrition
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Children can get up to almost one-half
of their total energy intake from snacks, and providing them with
nutritious, low-fat snacks can have a significant impact on their
health, according to a new report.
"They get the nutrients, they get the energy they need, and they
don't go eating the chips," said lead author Dr. Debra K. Sullivan
of the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City.
Recent studies have shown that snacking is growing among US
children, who consume a minimum of up to two snacks per day. However,
the most popular snack foods are also the least healthy, such
as soft drinks, potato chips and candy bars.
Researchers suspect obesity and poor nutrition among US children
may be due in part to unhealthy snacking.
But, as Sullivan and colleagues report in this month's issue
of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, simply substituting
healthier foods for unhealthy snacks could have a significant
impact on children's diets.
In the study, students given low-fat, nutritionally fortified
ice cream as an afternoon snack obtained less of their total daily
calories from fat during the days they were given the snack than
when there was no healthy snack provided, with the percent of
calories from fat in their diet dropping by almost two points,
the report indicates.
In addition, the investigators found that healthy snacks provided
kids with enough iron and calcium to meet the total daily requirements
for each of those nutrients. Prior to the study, the children
had not been getting adequate amounts of either of those nutrients
in their diets.
Sullivan's team obtained their findings from a study of 67 Nebraska
sixth graders. The researchers provided the students with an 8-ounce
portion of healthy ice cream three afternoons per week for 4 weeks.
During the 3-month study period, which included a month before
and a month after the period when children were given the ice
cream, researchers calculated the students' dietary intake by
questioning them once a week about the foods they had eaten during
the past 24 hours.
In an interview with Reuters Health, lead author Sullivan said
she was pleased to see that a simple intervention like providing
healthy snacks could lead to such significant improvements in
Although the percentage of daily calories from fat did not decrease
much, she pointed out that the outcome was the same as seen with
other, more expensive and time-consuming interventions. For example,
a 3-month education program was found to lower the percentage
of calories youngsters got from fat by only 1.5%--less than this
Sullivan said she thought snacking was a "critical area" to
focus on for improving kids' diets, given that it takes up such
as large proportion of their daily food intake.
She added, however, that it is up to parents and schools to
provide healthy snack options for children, such as fruit, vegetables
and low-fat dairy products. Young people may be afraid to try
new foods, she said, but if adults can introduce children to healthy
alternatives to junk food, "then they'd be more accepting of them,
and more likely to eat them in the future," she said.
SOURCE: Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2002;102:707-709.
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