May 8, 2012
Predicting Snack Choices Of Children
Connie K. Ho for Redorbit.com
A study done by researchers at the University of Cincinnati has found that children are influenced in making snack choices. These influences include attitudes, intentions, relationships, and personal behavior control. The research is published in the International Quarterly of Community Health Education and discusses the role that snacking has in the child obesity epidemic.
The study was conducted by Paul Branscrum, assistant professor of health and exercise science at the University of Oklahoma, and Manoj Sharma, a University of Cincinnati professor of health promotion and education. Over a period of 24 hours, they observed 167 fourth-and-fifth-graders in the Midwest and found that snacking was a large part of student diets. The researchers found that the group consumed an average of 300 calories of high-calorie, low-nutrition foods like chips, candies, and cookies. It made up almost 17 percent of their daily caloric needs. According to the report, the students consumed only 45 calories from fruits and vegetables.
In the project, 167 students were asked to write down all snacks and foods that they had ate within the 24 hour period. The researchers then entered the information into the USDA National Nutrient Database. They were able to calculate the calories from the high-calorie snacks as well as the fruits and vegetables.
The researchers also looked at the behaviors related to snacking such as if the children knew that snacking was a good or bad idea; if they were confident in choosing snacks that had lower calories; and if they felt any pressures from friends, parents, or teachers to choose snacks that were lower in calories. The findings showed that the students were influenced by intentions for snacking; healthy or unhealthy snacking was attributed to things like attitude, behavioral control, and social connections.
The study also highlighted how student of different gender or ethnic background had varied snacking choices. Based on the research, girls ate more high-calorie snacks (348.3 calories) than boys (238.8 calories). Likewise, African-American children consumed the least amount of high-calorie snacks (221.6 calories), as compared to Hispanic children (297.6 calories), white children (282.3 calories), and Asian children (280.8 calories). The project also showed that Hispanic and Asian children consumed more fruits and vegetable snacks than their white and African-American counterparts. In the group of participants, 59 percent were female, 41 percent were male, 48 percent were Caucasian, 16 percent were African-American, 19 percent were Hispanic, three percent were Asian, and 13 percent identified themselves as other or mixed race.
The article suggests that the snacking trends and increase in childhood snacking is related to the increasing number of children who don´t eat breakfast before attending school. Children tend to have greater control over choosing snacks and making bad choices, then having control over what´s served for dinner. It´s also possible that high-calorie snacks, like chips and cookies, are easier to consume than high-fiber snacks like fruits and vegetables. The report notes that snack foods, as opposed to fruits and vegetables, should be a concern as they are cheaper and easier for children to buy.
Furthermore, the researchers support the need for more health education programs for elementary school children. They believe that these programs can help students make positive health choices. They also believe that it´s important to target obesity in children to ward off future health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and increases in health care costs.
"Children may not comprehend long-term benefits or consequences of obesity, such as developing chronic conditions in adulthood, but it's likely that they would understand immediate benefits of a healthier lifestyle, such as being better able to play team or individual sports," commented Branscum in a prepared statement.