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Frequent Snacking Major Contributor to Obesity

A recent study cites that frequent snacking is more likely than portion size to contribute to increased caloric intake and obesity for Americans.

Conducted by researchers at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the study is comprised of data collected from four nationally representative food surveys conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) between 1977 and 2006.

The analysis, led by noted obesity researcher Barry Popkin, Ph.D., appears in the June issue of Public Library of Science and was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Increasing portion sizes were believed to be the major contributor of added calories in American’s diets. According to the analysis, between 1977 and 1991, portion size only increased by 12 percent but has stabilized within the last decade as people have become more aware of portion control.

“The real reason we seem to be eating more (calories) is we’re eating often,” says Popkin. “The frequency of eating is probably, for the average overweight adult, becoming a huge issue.”

Between 1977 and 2006, the number of eating occasions increased from 3.8 meals and snacks per day to 4.8, equaling a 29% increase in total meals and snacks per day.

Not surprisingly, the nutritional quality of snacks has declined. Researchers noted a dramatic shift in snacking trends over the 30 year period toward increased consumption of salty snacks, chips and nuts.

While a minor decrease in the amount of desserts, dairy products and fruit was noted, the top 5 sources of calories from snacks included desserts, salty snacks, other snacks, sweetened beverages, and juices/fruit.

Still, snacks contribute to approximately one quarter of daily calories consumed. This means that each day, roughly 570 more calories are being consumed per person than in 1977, with 220 of those coming from soft drinks alone.

The analysis contributes the extra snacking to an increase in availability of foods, irregular mealtimes, increased prevalence of sugar-laden beverages, and marketing campaigns for “on-the-go” foods and snacks.

The Bottom Line

It’s obvious that Americans are losing the fight against obesity as rates continue to steadily increase. Today, 38 states top 25% obesity according to F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2010, a report the Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

While high-fat and nutrient deficient snacks can be detrimental to your waist-line, it is important to note that regular snacking can be an effective part of a weight loss diet plan.

Choosing fruits, vegetables, nuts & seeds and keeping snacks to a 200 calorie limit can help you feel satiated between meals.

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