Frequent Snacking in Children may Not Always Cause Obesity
Children are often influenced by their environment. The environment does not restrict to only the immediate family but also extends to friends and the social network of the child. Thus, eating behaviors of children are influenced by those of companions at school or friends outside school.
Frequent snacking could be one of the factors contributing to the development of obesity. A child who gets more than 15 to 20 percent of the total energy intake from snacks is referred to as a 'snacker'. Children sitting glued to the television often end up munching between meals. Snacks may not be good for the body since they are usually high in sugar and fats.
Snacking, however, is also associated with social behavior. People tend to snack when they go out to meet other people. In a child, the social interaction not only results in excessive snacking, but the child tends to be more physically active during these interactions. This could negate the possible effects of snacking in causing obesity in children.
A study conducted in Italy confirmed this finding. A total of 1215 children between the ages of 6 and 10 years were included in the study, among which 608 were snackers and 607 children were no-snackers.
Information about the children's behavior regarding snacking and physical activity, the children's social network, basic socio-demographic features and physical characteristics of the family was collected from mothers of the children based on a telephonic interview.
Snackers in the study included those children who had at least 3 or more of the following foods per day: filled cakes/ sweet snacks, plain cakes/sweet snacks, chocolate snacks, sodas (no sugar-free) in can or bottle.
The study found that no-snackers had actually a more sedentary lifestyle. Snacking children were found to be more active, with at least 4 hours of physical activity per day. Children who indulged in snacking appeared to come from joint families, whereas no-snackers came from nuclear families. It is possible that in small nuclear families, the parents pay more attention and control the unhealthy eating habits of their children.
The study also found that though snackers enjoyed high-calorie foods, they did not seem to be at a risk for developing obesity. This is possibly due to the increased time spent in physical activity with the children's social network.
Thus, frequent snacking may not lead to obesity in children with a good social network and high physical activity.
1. Gregori D, Foltran F, Ghidina M, Zobec F, Ballali S, Franchin L and Berchialla P. The "Snacking Child" and its social network: some insights from an Italian survey. Nutrition Journal 2011, 10:132