Almost everyone is familiar with the alarming trend of childhood obesity. 32% of U.S. children are overweight or obese according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. One of the many factors leading to the obesity epidemic is increased snacking in children. Today children eat around three snacks daily while thirty years ago they ate only one. Parents want to ensure that their children snack healthfully, but restricting or limiting children's snacking can backfire. Children in homes where parents carefully regulate snacking were found to eat more unhealthy snacks in an unregulated environment than children with less restrictive parents.

Researchers Brian Wansink, Ph.D., Mitsuru Shimizu, Ph.D., and Adam Brumberg set out to discover whether certain types of snacks would lead children to feel full while consuming fewer calories. 201 students in the third through sixth grade were given either a plate of potato chips, a plate of vegetables, a plate of cheese, or a plate of vegetables and cheese while watching some of their favorite afterschool cartoons. They were asked about their fullness at the beginning of the experiment, after watching one episode of a cartoon, and again after watching a second episode of a cartoon.

Children who ate the vegetable and cheese snack plate needed significantly fewer calories than the children who ate the plate of potato chips to achieve satiety. Further, children from low-involvement families (families which spent less time eating meals together or interacting with each other while eating) ate more potato chips than other children when given potato chips to snack on. However, children from low-involvement families and overweight children showed the greatest reduction in the amount of calories consumed when eating the cheese and vegetable snack instead of potato chips. Overweight and obese children ate 76% fewer calories when they were given the cheese and vegetable snack while other children averaged a 60% reduction in calories eaten. Both groups reported being as full when eating the Cheese and veggie snack as they did when eating chips.

Use these results to help your child eat fewer calories when snacking, try:
  • Having more nutritious snacks available instead of eliminating snacking
  • Substituting a healthier snack like veggies and cheese in place of chips on a regular basis
  • Offering smaller quantities of a variety of healthy snacks (multiple kinds of vegetables or fruit) on a plate. Variety tends to stimulate consumption; increasing the healthy options available can lead to more of them being selected and eaten.
  • Encouraging children to be mindful of internal cues and stop eating when they feel full
Written by Sandra Cleveland and Adam Brumberg