Parenting Style Can Lead to Kids' Unhealthy Snacking

New research finds that a hands-off parenting approach to feeding children may unknowingly contribute to an increase in children’s snacking. Unhealthy snacking is a problem for overweight or obese children with strong appetites.

Investigators discovered snacking is an important factor influencing weight control as an 18-month study determined that more than 40 percent of children’s daily intake of added sugars came from snacks.

In the study, researchers from Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Michigan, and Temple University’s College of Public Health focused on Hispanic children, as they are disproportionately affected by obesity.

Sheryl Hughes, Ph.D., of Baylor College of Medicine explains that parents with uninvolved child feeding styles “may be engaged in lots of other aspects of parenting, but make few demands and have a relatively uninvolved approach when it comes to feeding children.”

The longitudinal study viewed the snacking habits of children from their preschool years into their early school years.

“We know that U.S. kids are consuming a significant proportion of daily calories from snacks,” said lead author Kate Bauer, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan.

“Snacks are not a trivial part of kids’ diet — rather, they’re pretty central at this stage. The findings suggest that children of uninvolved feeders could potentially be at risk for greater dietary excess from snacks.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommend two snacks per day for preschool-aged children. However, since 1977 preschoolers in the U.S. have consumed an additional 182 calories per day from snacks, regardless of socioeconomic status or ethnicity.

Desserts, sugar-sweetened beverages, and salty foods are among the most frequently consumed snacks by U.S. children two to 18 years old.

Investigators discovered that snacking may not pose an appreciable risk of dietary excess for normal-weight preschoolers, but may be problematic for overweight and obese children with greater appetitive drives.

“While children consume a significant amount of energy from snacks and the snacks eaten tend to be of poor nutritional quality, the extent to which snacking contributes to excessive dietary intakes was unclear until now,” said researcher Jennifer Fisher, M.D., of Temple University.

Source: Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior