In a new study, middle school students at risk for obesity who were given an after-school snack of peanuts or peanut butter experienced a drop in their body mass index (BMI) after six months, compared to kids who did not eat a peanut snack.
“Obesity is the most pressing health issue facing us today,” said Dr. Craig Johnston, assistant professor at the University of Houston Department of Health and Human Performance (HHP) and one of the co-authors.
“We’d like to think it’s preventable, but from where I sit right now, there hasn’t been a lot shown to be very effective on a large scale.”
Johnston carried out the study with Jennette Moreno, Ph.D., of Baylor College of Medicine; Afshan Mohamed, M.S., R.D., of Texas Children’s Hospital; and Carolyn E. Moore, Ph.D., R.D., with Texas Woman’s University.
Unhealthy snacking is more common during the adolescent years, said the researchers, and this habit can lead to an unhealthy weight, particularly if the child doesn’t have access to other meals during the school day.
“We have a lot of kids skipping meals for a whole bunch of reasons,” Johnston said. “What we found is that kids get home from school around 4:00 p.m. There’s less supervision by parents and less structure. Kids are sitting down at the TV and eating, eating, eating because they really didn’t eat at school.”
For the study, 257 Latino adolescents from three Houston-area charter schools participated in a 12-week program of physical activity and nutrition education. About half the students received a snack of peanuts or peanut butter three to four times a week, while the rest received the snack fewer than once a week.
Researchers in the study ensured students did not suffer from nut allergies.
The peanut snack was given after school as students were boarding the school bus to go home. Peanuts were chosen because nuts are nutrient-dense snacks that promote a feeling of being full.
Once the 12-week intervention was over, students spent the next 12 weeks maintaining the healthy snacking habit. At the end of the period, those students who received the snack more regularly experienced a significant decrease in their overall BMI compared to those who did not receive the peanut snack regularly.
The researchers conclude that afterschool programs and schools can replace energy-dense, unhealthy snacks with peanuts to provide a healthier alternative for children. Johnston says the fight against obesity needs creative solutions that help people manage their weight, appetite, and hunger by offering socially acceptable food choices.
“Schools are doing a great job of teaching kids, getting them workforce ready, and a whole bunch of other things. We’ve just got to make sure that our kids are going to live long, happy lives with that kind of education,” he said.
The findings are published in the Journal of Applied Research on Children.
Source: University of Houston