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Childhood obesity has been on the rise in the United States as a result of many behavioral factors including snacking. Research has shown mixed results in the efficacy of limiting children’s snacking. As an alternative, it has been speculated that providing high-nutrient dense snacks could reduce the caloric intake of children by increasing satiety. In this study, we hypothesized that children who eat high-nutrient density snacks would consume fewer calories and more nutrients than children who consume low-nutrient density snacks. Furthermore, we hypothesized that children who are overweight and those who are from low-familial involvement families would show pronounced results that would be in alignment with our initial hypothesis.
To test these hypotheses, we conducted a study with the participation of two hundred one 3rd and 6th grade children. Participating children were assigned to a low-nutrient density snack condition (potato chips only), or one of three high-nutrient density snacking conditions (cheese only, vegetables only, or cheese and vegetables). Children arrived at the study room and indicated their level of hunger to researchers on a 9-point scale. They then watched two cartoon episodes totaling 45-minutes during which they could snack freely on the food provided as indicated by their experimental condition. Each experimental session involved 5-11 children who were told the study was about the TV characters. Parents, waiting in another room, were told the study would measure their child’s behavior during television viewing. Parents completed a twenty-item questionnaire on family mealtime habits.
No child, in any condition, finished all of the food provided. Following the first television and second television episodes, the children were asked how full they were on the same scale as the pretest. The amount of food consumed was measured by researchers and converted to calories. This was compared to satiety levels and family mealtime behaviors.
The results show a significant effect of a high nutrient density snack on caloric consumption. A combination snack of cheese and vegetables significantly reduced caloric intake, as did simply offering cheese! Children who ate the combination snack consumed approximately the same amount of vegetables as those in the vegetables only condition. Children who ate the combined snack (vegetables and cheese) ate 72% fewer calories than those who ate the low nutrient density snack (potato chips). Those who ate this combination snack reached satiety at a much lower caloric intake. Furthermore, the effects of high nutrient density snacking were more pronounced among overweight or obese children and among those from low-involvement families.
This study suggests potential solutions to preventing childhood obesity caused by snacking. Eliminating snacks all together is not a practical solution for parents. However, replacing non-nutrient dense snacks with more satiety driving high nutrient density snacks may help children make healthier choices. High-nutrient dense snacks make children reach satiety with fewer calories and can also be a good source of important nutrients!
Wansink, Brian, Mitsuru Shimizu, and Adam Brumberg (2013). Association of Nutrient-Dense Snack Combinations With Calories and Vegetable Intake. Journal of Pediatrics. 131(1), 22-29. doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-3895.