Kids are eating more snacks than ever, but they’re replacing apples and milk with chips, candy and soft drinks.
Those are the findings of a study of 31,000 children ages 2 to 18 by Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina. The study was published in the journal Health Affairs.
Snacks now make up more than a quarter of children’s daily calorie intake, the study showed. The average child gets 586 calories a day from snacks.
Children are eating nearly three snacks a day, up from one a day nearly 30 years ago, and the calories in those snacks are up 168 calories a day, or 1,176 calories a week, according to Popkin’s study.
“They’ve cut down their fruit intake. They’ve cut out their milk intake. So these are soft drinks and salty snacks, desserts and candies and fruit juice,” Popkin said in a National Public Radio interview. “So we’ve essentially moved from healthy foods to unhealthy foods while we’ve increased our calories.”
The study comes on the heels of increases in childhood obesity. Results from a 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicate that an estimated 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 years are obese.
A 2008 survey from the Chicago-based research firm Mintel also showed an increase in snacking among youngsters. The survey showed that 96 percent of children 6 to 12 years old reported they ate snacks or treats between meals and that nutritious snacks such as dried fruit or nuts ranked much lower than processed snacks such as chips, crackers and sugar-laden cereal bars.
Mintel said manufacturers have the opportunity to make or reformulate healthier snacks for kids.
Among Mintel’s recommendations:
Reformulate a popular product to be healthier by reducing sugar and salt and eliminating artificial colors and flavors.
Develop healthy snacks like dried fruit and nuts that are geared specifically toward kids.
Use the same tactics to market healthy snacks that manufacturers of other snacks do – such as character merchandising and movie tie-ins.