In the past two weeks since my daughter returned to school as a newly diagnosed diabetic, we’ve started finding out just how many times a week students are presented with treat foods as extra snacks, even outside of what they bring from home. Happens at least twice a week. Why? They’re not in kindergarten.
I know I kind of “got into this” in my post two days ago about making hamantaschen lower in carbs. But my lingering amazement at the automatic and frequent food handouts in class, between snack and lunch even, got a boost this morning when I read the New York Times article by Tara Parker-Pope on the big rise in kids’ snacking over the past 30 years.
Barry Popkin, a nutrition researcher at UNC-Chapel Hill, and one of his students have just published an analysis of American kids’ snacking over the past 3o years. They compiled data from four national diet and health surveys and found that kids are now snacking an average of 3 times a day, mostly on cookies, chips, candy, sodas etc., not vegetables or whole fruits. They’re taking in more than a quarter of their daily energy, about 600 calories, from these low-nutrition processed foods. That’s 168 more calories on average than 30 years ago, and kids 2-6 seemed to be in even worse shape.
The percentage of kids who snacked at least once a day in 1977 was about 75%, but now it’s up to about 98%. About half the kids today snack 4 times or more per day. Some snack 10 times a day. What on earth?
This article in the NY Times “The Well” section was quickly followed by another in which Parker-Pope reviews countering arguments about the real harm a single cookie a day may or may not be doing. Studies cited a bit more vaguely than the Popkin study may suggest a lack of consistent benefit to insisting that everyone cut out a cookie a day to lose weight.
Will cutting out a cookie a day help if you’re eating other extras instead or not exercising? Maybe not–in fact, probably not. But I have to wonder why this hedging, wishy-washy kind of article followed so quickly on the heels of the report on the bigger study with hard numbers. Does Parker-Pope’s second piece negate what Popkin and his student Carmen Pierna have reported on snacking trends? Not legitimately.
My daughter actually needs to eat a snack between meals these days. But she’s an exception, not only for needing it at age 9 but for eating a specific and limited snack with some nutrition to it in a timely, coordinated way rather than grabbing up unlimited treat foods without regard to the regular meal plan.
Automatic, constant, reason-free snacking–now not even limited to snack time!–is just not a necessity. It’s a habit that’s snowballed until it seems so normal people don’t even realize they’re doing it anymore or why it’s not a good idea.
All I can say is, it shouldn’t take having to be diabetic to notice the excess snack habit and steer clear. Is it time for the Great American Snack-Out?
Filed under: Eating out, Food Politics, history, kid food, nutrition | Tagged: Barry Popkin, excess calories, healthy kids, junk food, nutrition, obesity epidemic, processed food, school nutrition, snacking |