Snacks mean U.S. kids moving toward "constant eating"
Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. children eat an average three snacks a day on top of three regular meals, a finding that could explain why the childhood obesity rate has risen to more than 16 percent, researchers said on Tuesday.
Children snack so often that they are "moving toward constant eating," Carmen Piernas and Barry Popkin of the University of North Carolina reported.
More than 27 percent of calories that American kids take in come from snacks, Piernas and Popkin reported in the journal Health Affairs. The researchers defined snacks as food eaten outside regular meals.
The studies will help fuel President Barack Obama's initiative to fight obesity in childhood, something Obama's wife, first lady Michelle Obama, notes could drive up already soaring U.S. healthcare costs.
Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote a commentary calling for taxes on sugary drinks and junk food, zoning restrictions on fast-food outlets around schools and bans on advertising unhealthy food to children.
"Government at national, state, and local levels, spearheaded by public health agencies, must take action," he wrote.
Piernas and Popkin looked at data on 31,337 children aged 2 to 18 from four different federal surveys on food and eating.
"Childhood snacking trends are moving toward three snacks per day, and more than 27 percent of children's daily calories are coming from snacks. The largest increases have been in salty snacks and candy. Desserts and sweetened beverages remain the major sources of calories from snacks," they wrote.
"Children increased their caloric intake by 113 calories per day from 1977 to 2006," they added.
"This raises the question of whether the physiological basis for eating is becoming deregulated, as our children are moving toward constant eating."