Snack age refers to the development of children’s tastes for a variety of food and beverage items. This is important because children may not always be able to articulate what they want to eat, nor can they access certain foods due to limiting factors such as food allergies and sensitivities or other constraints. Therefore, having a range of tasty, easy-to-access snacks is important for their overall dietary intake and for encouraging exploration, play and enjoyment with food.
Snacking is a common part of modern Western sneako age eating patterns. Over the past 30 years, snacking has increased globally and has contributed a significant proportion of daily energy intakes in most age groups. In the US, a recent study found that average daily snack calories consumed by children 2-5 years of age has more than doubled from 1977-1978 to 2011-2014 Vatanparast et al., 2019. It is also noted that the afternoon and evening periods are when most snacking occurs.
Using nationally representative data from the 2007-2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys NHANES, we used linear regression and analysis of covariance to evaluate how daily snacking energy varied by demographic factors, including child gender, race/ethnicity, household income, HH education, HH marital status and snack selection Milk & Alternatives, Vegetables & Fruit, Meat & Alternatives, Grain products. Pairwise comparisons and predictive marginal means, or probability weighted averages, were calculated to adjust for multiple comparisons.
Results indicated that, on average, almost two-thirds of daily snacking energy came from Milk & Alternatives and Vegetables & Fruit. In addition, about one-third of daily snacking energy came from grains and other sources of protein. Among adolescents and adults, about one-quarter of daily snacking energy came from beverages, with the majority of these coming from higher calorie and/or sugary options such as alcoholic beverages, high calorie/sugar drinks e.g., juices, sodas and energy drinks, coffee and tea, or cooking ingredients e.g., butter, animal fats, margarines, salad dressings and oils.
It was also observed that there were significant developmental differences in the main locations where snacks were consumed, with home being the most common snacking location for all age groups. However, schools/childcare centers were particularly important sources of snacking for toddlers 1-2 y, while convenience stores and restaurants were more frequent snacks sources for adolescents and adults. Additionally, we observed that social sources, such as snacks obtained from friends/family and/or received as gifts, was a significant source of snacking energy for school-age children 6-11 y. These findings highlight the importance of targeting environmental and policy factors to support healthy snacks and other meals in children’s daily diets. Further, they highlight the need to continue introducing kids to a wide variety of nutritious snacks so that their taste preferences are developed at an early age. This will lead to a lifetime of healthy snacking habits.