American snacking habits to blame for obesity: study

by Deborah Braconnier report
snacks

(Medical Xpress) -- In a new study published in PLoS Medicine, researchers have shown that it is not only the American habit of “super-sizing” meals that is leading to obesity, but the number of snacks and meals that are being eaten throughout the day.

The study, led by professor of nutrition Barry Popkin from the University of North Carolina, looked at data from food studies conducted as far back as the 1970s and discovered that Americans have increased their daily caloric intake. In 1977-78, Americans were consuming on average 1,803 kcal and in 2003-06 that number had jumped up to 2,374.

The study examined the amount of calories in a specific amount of food, portion sizes that were consumed and how many snacks and meals were consumed within a day. Looking at the results, the researchers concluded that and the amount of meals and snacks eaten are the biggest factors responsible for the change.

According to the numbers, the number of daily meals and snacks in 1977 were 3.8 but rose to 4.8 in 2006. However, the top 10 percent of surveys showed that the number of meals and were as high as seven per day. It appears that in the last few years, portion size seems to be stabilizing, however the total number of calories consumed is increasing. A main reason behind this is the daily consumption of more than 220 more calories consumed daily from soft drinks than in years past.

While many diet and health advice over the years has suggested eating more frequent small meals, it appears the idea of eating more frequently was understood but the foods chosen are not correct. Eating small, frequent meals can boost your metabolism and control hunger more than eating three big meals a day, however, if these smaller are high-calorie and salty options, the benefits are not seen.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, as many as 25 percent of Americans are obese and these findings suggest that a new focus needs to be placed on portion size and snacking habits in order to reduce those numbers.

More information: Duffey KJ, Popkin BM (2011) Energy Density, Portion Size, and Eating Occasions: Contributions to Increased Energy Intake in the United States, 1977–2006. PLoS Med 8(6): e1001050. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001050

Abstract
Competing theories attempt to explain changes in total energy (TE) intake; however, a rigorous, comprehensive examination of these explanations has not been undertaken. Our objective was to examine the relative contribution of energy density (ED), portion size (PS), and the number of eating/drinking occasions (EOs) to changes in daily TE. Using cross-sectional nationally representative data from the Nationwide Food Consumption Survey (1977–78), Continuing Survey of Food Intakes of Individuals (1989–91), and National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (1994–98 and 2003–06) for adults (aged ≥19 y), we mathematically decompose TE (kcal/d) to understand the relative contributions of each component—PS (grams/EO), ED (kcal/g/EO) and EO(number)—to changes in TE over time. There was an increase in TE intake (+570 kcal/d) and the number of daily EOs (+1.1) between 1977–78 and 2003–06. The average PS increased between 1977–78 and 1994–98, then dropped slightly between 1994–98 and 2003–06, while the average ED remained steady between 1977–78 and 1989–91, then declined slightly between 1989–91 and 1994–98. Estimates from the decomposition statistical models suggest that between 1977–78 and 1989–91, annualized changes in PS contributed nearly 15 kcal/d/y to increases in TE, while changes in EO accounted for just 4 kcal/d/y. Between 1994–98 and 2003–06 changes in EO accounted for 39 kcal/d/y of increase and changes in PS accounted for 1 kcal/d/y of decline in the annualized change in TE. While all three components have contributed to some extent to 30-y changes in TE, changes in EO and PS have accounted for most of the change. These findings suggest a new focus for efforts to reduce energy imbalances in US adults.

Related Stories

Maintain, don't gain during the holidays

Dec 20, 2007

For many people, the holiday season brings shopping and parties with plenty of delicious food. How do you maintain good eating habits and avoid weight gain when there are so many temptations that can doom even the most disciplined ...

Recommended for you

Testosterone testing has increased in recent years

23 hours ago

(HealthDay)—There has been a recent increase in the rate of testosterone testing, with more testing seen in men with comorbidities associated with hypogonadism, according to research published online Nov. ...

AMA: Hospital staff should consider impact of CMS rule

Nov 21, 2014

(HealthDay)—Hospital medical staff members need to consider the impact of a final rule issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that revised the conditions of participation for hospitals ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

FroShow
5 / 5 (1) Jul 01, 2011
Does anyone else think that the overabundance and types of food we have today lay in stark contrast to what our species have evolved to expect?
I've become increasingly convinced that the 'hunter-gatherer' diet would be the healthiest option.
sherriffwoody
5 / 5 (1) Jul 01, 2011
Does anyone else think that the overabundance and types of food we have today lay in stark contrast to what our species have evolved to expect?
I've become increasingly convinced that the 'hunter-gatherer' diet would be the healthiest option.

Agreed, and even more, a hunter gatherer diet that revolves your ancestors ate, what your genes are suited too, e.g an inuit eats what his body has evolved to eat, high fat protien diets, not a man made highly processed bowl of pasta containing tonnes of flour.
Highly processed foods (mainly those of containing processed carbohydrates e.g. sugar and flour) are the main cause of modern obesity.
You just have to look at the trend
1. today we eat less than those of 50 years ago
2. they ate more natural foods 50 years ago
3. In the last 50 years there has been an increase in sugar and flour in the diet
4. in the last 50 years obesity has risen in relation to the increase of processed carbs
-and all the while we get told fat causes fat????
Destor
not rated yet Jul 02, 2011
Contrary to what this article is suggesting though, it's not increased snacking and excess calories that are causing obesity, it's the carbs. Snacking is fine if you're limiting carb intake, that's what it really comes down to.

Of course snacking foods tend to be high carb, sans beef jerky and other snackable meat products, so it might be safe to accuse snacking in some way.
FroShow
not rated yet Jul 02, 2011
@Destor; Carbs ARE calories. Limiting carbohydrate intake is the same as limiting caloric intake. Ie) what the article is pointing at.

What I think you're getting at though, is that nutrition is also important. I agree with this because proper nutrition can help regulate hunger, which in turn affects caloric intake.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Jul 03, 2011
Limiting carbohydrate intake is the same as limiting caloric intake

Not quite. The key is how much insulin is stimulated.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Jul 04, 2011
"Dr. Broer said the study also revealed an influence of protein in our nutrition on insulin release, which controls the metabolism of sugar and fat in our bodies."
http://www.physor...firstCmt
FroShow
not rated yet Jul 04, 2011
Limiting carbohydrate intake is the same as limiting caloric intake

Not quite. The key is how much insulin is stimulated.

Yes quite.
A [small / (large, kilogram, dietary, or food)] calorie is the amount of energy needed to change 1[g/kg] of water by 1degree Celcius.
Energy in (in the form of food, ie, carbohydrates (complex sugars)) must equal energy out (heat, work, and chemical energy still left in your waste).
Introducing insulin is a distraction from the point made. Besides, your quote supports the second part of my previous comment:
...nutrition is also important. I agree with this because proper nutrition can help regulate hunger, which in turn affects caloric intake.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Jul 04, 2011
Energy is created by metabolizing protein and fat, too.

How is insulin a distraction? Carbohydrates spike blood sugar which triggers and insulin response. Its not a good thing if your cells are insulin resistant from eating too many carbs.

Ever wonder why people feel hungry 2 hours after stuffing themselves at the Chinese buffet? It's the rapid drop in blood sugar after digesting that rice and lo mein.

BTW, humans can survive without carbohydrates. They cannot survive without fats and proteins.
FroShow
not rated yet Jul 04, 2011
"insulin is a distraction..." because introducing it does not negate any previous comment, or change the points made in the article: "...researchers concluded that portion size and the amount of meals and snacks eaten are the biggest factors responsible for the change."

Everything you said is correct. I was merely defending my statement and trying not to let people misinterpret what the article is saying.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Jul 04, 2011
.researchers concluded that portion size and the amount of meals and snacks eaten are the biggest factors responsible for the change

But no comment on the content, which IS significant, and is apparently ignored.
The photo above shows high carb snacks and the USDA guidelines promote high carb diets.
If those snacks were beef jerky and nuts, they story may be quite different.
FroShow
not rated yet Jul 04, 2011
4th paragraph of the article.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.