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OU Researcher Examines The Healthy And Unhealthy Snack Choices Of Fourth- And Fifth-Grade Students

May 10, 2012

Fighting Childhood Obesity in America Through Health Nutrition Education

A health nutrition education program to fight childhood obesity in America is a possible outcome of a study by a University of Oklahoma researcher and a colleague.  The study looked at factors affecting a child´s decision when choosing healthy or unhealthy snacks.

Paul Branscum, assistant professor, OU Department of Health and Exercise Science, College of Arts and Sciences, surveyed 167 fourth- and fifth-grade students in the Midwest to find out what snacks the students were eating between meals.  Branscum asked the students to record their choices over a 24-hour-period.

Survey results show students have more control when choosing snacks and, unfortunately, the high-caloric snacks are the least expensive.  Overall, the group averaged 300 calories from high-calorie snacks, such as chips, cookies and candies–almost 17% of their daily caloric intake needs.  It also showed children were consuming 45 calories from fruit and vegetable snacks, which is about half a piece of fruit.

Snacking has been linked to childhood obesity, so it is concerning to learn that female students consume more higher-caloric snacks than male students.  African-American children consumed the least high-calorie snacks when compared with Hispanic, Caucasian and Asian children.

The study found that snack choices resulted from the student´s positive or negative intentions towards choosing healthy snacks.  Also, a student´s snack choices resulted from their attitudes toward the snacks, pressure felt from peers and family members to eat healthy snacks, and the ability to control the choice of snacks.

“Changing a student´s attitude toward healthier snacks lies in the ability to show the immediate benefits of a healthier lifestyle,” says Branscum.  “It´s doubtful they will see the long-term benefits that result from fighting obesity, which leads to chronic diseases in adulthood.”

Branscum and a colleague from the University of Cincinnati published the results of this study in the International Quarterly of Community Health Education. For more information about this study, contact Paul Branscum at pbranscum@ou.edu.

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