Snacking Shocker: Kids Prefer Cheetos to Carrots

Filed under: Nutrition: Health, Nutrition: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Nutrition: Tweens, Research Reveals: Tweens, Nutrition: Teens, Research Reveals: Teens

When a snack attack strikes, are kids opting for junk food? Credit: Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images

Apples, carrot sticks or raisins? Puh-leeze.

When it comes to snack time, more kids are reaching for salty chips, candy and junk food than ever before, according to a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study released this week.

Snacks now account for 27 percent of children's calorie intake, according to Barry Popkin, professor of nutrition at UNC's Gillings School of Global Public Health.

The increase in unhealthy snacks has occurred while childhood obesity is on the rise.

"Our study shows that children, including very young children, eat snacks almost three times a day," Popkin says in a news release about the study, which appears in the March issue of Health Affairs. "Such findings raise concerns that more children in the United States are moving toward a dysfunctional eating pattern, one that can lead to unhealthy weight gain and obesity."

The number of children ages 2 to 18 who snacked between meals jumped from 74 percent to 98 percent between 1977 and 2006, according to the study.

The snacks, themselves, also have gotten less healthy. Children are more likely to eat candy, chips and crackers than fruits or vegetables, Popkin says.

"Kids are eating nearly three snacks a day and that's too much," Popkin says. He offers these suggestions to parents:

  • Try to limit snack time to once a day for children six and older.
  • Be sure to up on plenty of healthy snack food items, such as apple slices, carrots and other fruits and vegetables.
  • Limit a young child's consumption of junk food or candy and talk to older teens about the importance of a healthy diet, including snacks.

Related: 100-Calorie Snacks: Make Your Own

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.