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Snacks the Meal of Choice for Youths


December 16, 2014

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Snacks have replaced meals in the eating habits of young children, a series of reports have found.

The reports, written by a Finnish researcher and published in European journals, surveyed 512 boys and girls from the city of Kuopio, in a study known as Physical Activity and Nutrition in Children (PANIC). The 15-year study has issued periodic reports since its inception in 2007, including a study earlier in 2014 that linked low levels of physical activity to a greater risk of type 2 diabetes.

The latest report surveyed the children, now ages 6, 7, or 8, for four days, asking them to track what they ate and drank, and when. More than half of all children did not eat three meals a day, filling their health needs with snacks instead.

Of the boys surveyed, 45 percent said they did eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner; that number for the girls surveyed was 34 percent. A reverse of those numbers finds that 55 percent of boys and 66 percent of girls did not eat three meals a day. The meal most skipped was dinner.

The study also found that all children, even the ones who ate all three meals in a day, reported that 42 percent of their calories came from snacks. Those snacks, the study found, contgained more saturated fat and salt and less iron, fiber, and vitamins than the food that the children ate during meals.

The study is a scientific one, and researchers also tracked several health indicators, including blood glucose levels, blood pressure, body mass index, cholesterol levels, insulin levels, and waist circumference.

Among the findings was that the children who ate three meals in a day had smaller waist circumferences and lower risk of being overweight than did the children who skipped a meal.

The study did find that lunch, provided at school, was higher in nutrients and healthier fats and lower in sugar than the children's other meals.

The reports appeared in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the European Journal of Nutrition, and the International Journal of Obesity.

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