Is snacking good for teens?
Are snacks really needed in all adolescents’ diets? Is snacking linked to obesity in kids?
The relationship between snacks and weight gain in adolescents has been a topic of much interest and debate in recent years. Understanding the impact of snack types on risk of overweight in adolescents might help some teens with their weight struggles.
A study published in the Journal of Obesity sheds light on this topic, providing valuable insights into the types and amounts of snacks consumed by adolescents, and their potential relationship to weight gain. In this blog, we'll take a closer look at the study's findings and explore the implications for parents, teenagers, and healthcare professionals alike.
The study, published in 2022 in the Journal of Obesity, examined data collected between 2007 and 2018 using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. The study included 5,264 teenagers between the ages of 12 and 19 years old. Researchers collected data on the participants' height and weight to calculate their body mass index (BMI), an index that scientist use to figure out if a child has a healthy or unhealthy weight.
If you want to learn more about what is BMI and how to figure out how much weight your teen needs to lose to be in a healthy weight, listen to episode 1 of my podcast: www.lifestyleforteens.com/1
The participants were classified into three groups: normal weight, overweight, and obesity category. The researchers compared the types of snacks and the quality of snacks consumed by the participants in each group.
The study found that adolescents who were classified in the obesity group consumed an average of 603 calories per day from snacks, compared to 527 calories for the overweight group and 424 calories for the normal weight group.
The researchers also found that adolescents who were in the overweight or obesity group consumed higher amounts of refined grains, dairy, protein, oil, solid fat, and added sugar from snacks than those within the normal weight group.
Additionally, the study revealed that snacking accounted for approximately 22% of the total daily energy intake!! That means that just by eliminating unhealthy snacks teens can improve tremendously their unhealthy weight.
Other studies also have supported the relationship between snacks and weight gain in adolescents.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that snacking frequency and energy density of snacks were positively associated with weight gain over a 7-year period. The study found that participants who snacked more frequently and consumed high-energy-density snacks had a greater risk of gaining weight compared to those who ate snacks less often and ate low-energy-density snacks.
Moreover, research has indicated that the timing of snacking may also impact weight gain. A study published in the journal Obesity found that consuming snacks late at night was associated with higher body mass index (BMI) and increased weight gain over time. The study suggested that late-night snacking disrupts the circadian rhythm and can lead to metabolic dysfunction and weight gain.
The type of snacks consumed may also influence weight gain. A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also showed that participants who consumed healthy snack alternatives for adolescents like fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy as snacks had a lower risk of gaining weight compared to those who ate high-fat snacks. This shows the great importance of healthy snacks for weight management in adolescents.
So, we can say that snacking habits are closely associated with weight gain, and consuming high-calorie snacks, snacking frequently, snacking late at night, and consuming high-fat snacks are all linked to an increased risk of gaining weight. Therefore, promoting healthy snacking habits that emphasize low-energy-density snacks, consumed in moderation, may help prevent weight gain and promote healthy lifestyles.
The Take Home Messages
- The kind of snacks that are consumed and the quality of those snacks have a big effect in the amount of weight that is gained by teenagers.
- The adolescents who eat a lot of snacks from refined grains, dairy, protein, oil, solid fat, and added sugar from snacks are more likely to have weight issues also in later life.
- In order to encourage a healthy way of life, both parents and adolescents should consider the overall number of calories that are consumed through snacks and strive to choose healthier snacks.
If you are not sure what these alternatives might be, I have created a list of 20 healthy snack ideas for teens, which you can grab for free here: www.lifestyleforteens.com/snacks
- Better health outcomes may be achieved by decreasing consumption of refined sugar, refined grains, added sugar, and solid fat while simultaneously increasing fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
- Parents can help tremendously their adolescents in maintaining a healthy weight. When the whole family has better snacking habits, it is easier for the teens to build healthy habits. Parents can help by being a role model and not consume unhealthy snacks themselves and also by not buying these snacks and keeping them out of the house.
If you want to know more about the research I mentioned above, check out episode 3 of the lifestyle and weight loss for teens podcast here: www.lifestyleforteens.com/3
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All the best,
Jenny Gourgari, MD