Snacking and Soft Drink Consumption

There has been a general shift over the last decade towards fewer meals eaten at home and more eaten in restaurants and cafes combined with an increase in snacking. Snacks, including soft drinks, now contribute a significant proportion of the daily energy intake of adolescents. Concerns about the possible impact of snacks on measures of overweight and nutrient composition have not been borne out by the evidence, although it is acknowledged that data collection in this area is complicated by the myriad of definitions for 'snack.' A number of observational studies have found that frequent snackers have similar nutrient intakes to those who snack infrequently. With respect to body size, snacking tends to relate to a lower body mass index rather than one that is high. Intervention studies also provide valuable evidence on the effects of snacking. A study in adults, which attempted to increase consumption of snacks to around 25% of daily energy using a variety of low- and high-fat products, found that the subjects compensated for the additional energy by reducing the amount eaten at meals. While these data suggest that snacking is more benign than was previously thought, it is important to emphasize the concept of balance. Common snack foods amongst adolescents are potato crisps, carbonated drinks, biscuits, and confectionery. While these foods certainly have a role in creating variety and enjoyment in the diet, no one would argue that they should represent the primary sources of energy for young people. In the case of soft drinks, evidence from short-term intervention studies suggests that higher intakes (in excess of two cans per day) are linked with higher energy intakes and lower intakes of micronutrients. Yet most epidemiological studies show an inverse correlation between sugar consumption (a proxy for soft drink consumption) and mean body mass index. Further work is needed to determine optimal cut-offs for soft drink intakes, particularly for adolescents who tend to be major consumers.

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