It should come as no great surprise that snacking is a relatively prevalent behavior among Americans, and that’s not to say that all snacking is bad, but when we’re consuming a large portion of calories that have little nutritional value it can lead to a much greater volume of health concerns. A recent study conducted by Ohio State, revealed that 19-22% of an adults daily diet consists of snacks or sweets. Meaning they provide between 400 and 500 calories a day. Which is a larger amount of calories than the average meal!
What’s even more worrying is that the same study found that only 5% of calories come from fruit or vegetables. This suggests that the majority of snacks consumed by adults offer little to no nutritional value, contributing to various health issues and vitamin and mineral deficiencies across the US. As such simply cutting down on the sugar and refined carbs isn't going to magically fix vitamin deficiencies and we're now at the point where almost everyone in the US has one deficiency or another harming their health, most commonly vitamin D, E, Magnesium, Caclium, Vitamin A and Vitamin C, in that order, with the rates ranging from 90%-40%.
The Impact of Snacking on Health
Unhealthy snacking habits have been closely linked to the development of chronic diseases issues such as diabetes and of course obesity.
In the United States, where nearly 42% of adults are obese and understanding the role of snacking in this epidemic is crucial for developing effective intervention strategies.
A study published in PLOS Global Public Health analyzed the dietary patterns of 23,708 U.S. adults and found that those with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes consumed significantly fewer calories from snacks compared to individuals without diabetes. And this was true regardless of whether the conditions were self controlled or medicated.
This suggests that individuals with diabetes may be more aware of the detrimental effects of unhealthy snacking and are following dietary advice from healthcare providers.
Disparities in Snack Consumption
The study conducted by Ohio State University also highlighted disparities in snack consumption among different demographic groups.
Black adults had the highest mean energy, total sugar, and sodium intake from junk foods. And this would likely line up with the higher obesity rates in this community, suggesting that a lack of education on the severity of the issue is more prevalent.
White adults had the highest saturated fat intake however. With Asians generally being healthier in their consumption habits.
These disparities emphasize the need for targeted interventions to improve snack choices and overall dietary behaviors.
There was also a lot of alcohol based calories consumed, which is often missed by individuals who are not thinking about their daily diet. Diabetics however were far more restrained on alcohol consumption. However, even anecdotally we can attest most people don’t realise how many calories are in a beer or a shot. Go ahead and have a quick google, it’s a lot more than you think.
The Need for Education and Intervention
The findings of these studies show that there is quite an urgent need for education and intervention to promote healthier snacking behaviors among American adults. And of course there is the risk that said lack of understanding is passed onto the next generation through the home. As such school based interventions are equally as important.
Diabetes education programs have shown promising results but expanding these efforts from solely people at risk or with diabetes to people with currently normal blood glucose levels could help prevent the development of chronic diseases.