Snacking may substantially contribute to overall energy intake of kids, but the impact is more positive among younger kids.
“Unexpectedly, in elementary school-age participants we found that overall eating frequency and snacks positively contributed to diet quality,” said E. Whitney Evans, a post-doctoral research fellow at Brown University in the US.
“In adolescents, however, our results suggested that snacks detract from overall diet quality while each additional meal increased diet quality,” she added.
The diet quality differences by age were significant.
Among the 92 school-age children aged 9 to 11 in the study, each snack raised their diet quality by 2.31 points, as measured on the Healthy Eating Index, 2005 developed by the US Department of Agriculture.
Among the 84 teenagers in the research, aged 12 to 15, each snack dragged the quality score down by 2.73 points whereas each meal increased the quality score by 5.40 points.
Overall, each snack contributed about half as much to total daily energy intake as each meal, making them high-stakes eating moments, Evans said.
“Snacks do not have to be vilified,” Evans noted, adding that snacks can be beneficial to children’s diets when made up of the right foods.
The best snacks at any age, she said, are ones that are nutrient-rich, rather than calorically dense.
The study appeared in the journal Public Health Nutrition. (ians)