Over the past 40 years, snacking among children has risen significantly, according to Jennifer Fisher, Temple University public health associate professor, who spoke about her findings at a University talk on Friday.
Fisher said it is unclear what impact increased snacking has on children’s nutrition. She said family is important not only because they provide the food children are eating, but because they’re also acting as models of eating.
“When we think about appetite, for instance, and appetite over the course of development, we think about children as having genetic potential or a set of predispositions, but then we also think about the developmental history as well as the experience that children accrue in their environments,” Fisher said. “We think that this learning can have everything to do with how children learn to detect hunger and fullness, to when they should start to eat, to when they should stop eating.”
Fisher said the data she has collected suggests that kids are consuming a significant proportion of energy from snacks.
“It’s still debatable how snacks factor in overall to kids’ nutritional needs, whether they work more for good or are problematic,” Fisher said.
Fisher said the solid fats and added sugars that come in a lot of snacks tend to fill children up and, therefore, decrease the likelihood that children will get all the nutrition they need.
“As far as parenting goes, what we’ve learned is that snacks are offered for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with nutrition,” Fisher said. “And a lot of those foods are high in solid fats and added sugars.”
Nutritional sciences assistant professor Jaimie Davis said she was very excited to have Fisher come talk at UT because she had been an inspiration to her when she heard her speak at a conference over 10 years ago.
“She was up there, and I was listening to her amazing research, and I was like ‘Oh my gosh, you can do it all: have a family and be a great researcher,’” Davis said.
Nutrition junior Vanessa Beltran said she thinks the study of childhood snacking trends is important because teaching good eating habits early in life can often prevent problems like obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
“[Snacking involves] more input of energy, and having an unequal energy balance where a lot more energy is being taken in than put out obviously influences [obesity],” Beltran said. “With more eating and less physical activity, which is also a trend that we’ve seen, all these extra things children are eating make a big difference.”