Why America’s Snack Problem Could Be Harmful to Health

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American adults eat a meal’s worth of calories in snacks every day, according to a recent study published in PLOS Global Public Health.

The study examined data from more than 23,000 Americans aged 30 and older through a 24-hour dietary survey spanning more than a decade as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

According to the study, Americans consumed an average of 400 to 500 calories of snacks per day, which represents about a quarter of an average adult’s calorie needs. Furthermore, most snacks consumed provided very little nutritional value, with the most common snacks including foods high in carbohydrates and fats, sweets and alcoholic drinks.

Although snacking can be part of a balanced diet, excessive snacking can pose a serious threat to public health. As the aforementioned research shows, regular snacks are high in sugar and unhealthy fats, adding little to overall nutritional health. Consistent consumption of these types of calories can lead to weight gain, which can invariably contribute to America’s obesity epidemic.

More than two in five American adults are obese, according to data from National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. More than one billion people worldwide suffer from obesity. These numbers will continue to worsen unless we, as a public, proactively address this problem with more effective nutrition, diet and exercise education. Healthier snacks, such as fruits and vegetables, should replace the more common sugary food options that are popular among snackers among Americans.

Weight gain from snacking can also lead to a number of chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. For example, obesity is linked to 30 to 53% of new diabetes cases in the US each year, according to data from the American Heart Association. These chronic diseases can be largely prevented through lifestyle changes and choices we make regarding diet and exercise.

Unhealthy snacks can also have a profound effect on the health of children and adolescents. Snacking can be a common habit for both children and adults, but especially for children when they are engaged in activities such as watching television. Children are also exposed to marketing of unhealthy snacks on television, which could perhaps influence their nutritional decisions regarding which snacks to consume. Nearly 15 million American children and adolescents are obese, according to data from CDC. These figures could increase in the future if the national trend of unhealthy snacking is not addressed.

Finally, snacking on foods high in sugar and fats can also pose risks to dental health. For example, snacks with a high sugar content feed the bacteria normally found in the mouth. When these bacteria break down sugars in the mouth, they produce acids that can lead to plaque formation. With time, plaques can lead to the formation of cavities and ultimately tooth decay.

Although unhealthy snacking can pose serious risks to overall health and well-being, snacking can also be part of a balanced diet if the food chosen has a high nutritional content. Such foods include whole grains, fruits and vegetables, to name just a few options.

Ultimately, promoting awareness about healthier snacking can help address America’s snacking problem. This includes fostering environments that promote healthier snack options, such as in schools and workplaces, and educating children early on how to develop healthy snacking habits. A joint effort among parents, children, educators and food manufacturers can help turn the tide on cultivating healthy snack options for Americans.

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