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Title: Snacking Patterns of U.S. Adolescents: What We Eat In America, NHANES 2005-2006

item Sebastian, Rhonda
item Goldman, Joseph
item Enns, Cecilia

Submitted to: Worldwide Web Site: Food Surveys Research Group
Publication Type: Review Article
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/23/2010
Publication Date: 11/5/2010
Citation: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2010. Snacking patterns of U.S. adolescents: What We Eat In America, NHANES 2005-2006. Available:

Interpretive Summary: Rising rates of overweight and obesity among adolescents have led researchers to speculate about whether dietary patterns such as snacking are related to body mass index (BMI) and intakes of food and nutrients. Using the most recently released nationwide data on dietary intakes (What We Eat in America (WWEIA), NHANES 2005-2006), we examined trends in snacking, relationships between the frequency of snacking in a day, energy intake, and BMI, and the contribution of snacks to the overall dietary intakes of adolescents 12-19 years of age. “Snacking Patterns of U.S. Adolescents: What We Eat in America, NHANES 2005-2006,” a Dietary Data Brief available on the Food Surveys Research Group website at, provides a snapshot of snacking behavior among adolescents, including the following points: The percentage of adolescents consuming at least one snack on any given day is higher than it was 30 years ago; more frequent snacking is associated with higher intake of calories, but not with higher BMI; snacks provide about one-fourth of adolescents’ daily caloric intake and larger proportions of carbohydrate and total sugars but smaller proportions of most other nutrients; snacks provide less than one-fifth of adolescents’ intake of grains, milk, vegetables, and meat/beans but over one-fourth of their intake of discretionary calories and over one-third of their intakes of fruits and added sugars. Many of the foods that make the largest contributions to adolescents' MyPyramid intakes at snacks are also high in added sugars, solid fats, or both. By conveying this information through simple charts and brief text, this Dietary Data Brief widens the pool of users who can benefit from the Food Surveys Research Group’s ongoing work in monitoring and assessing food consumption and related behavior of the U.S. population. The information in this Dietary Data Brief will be of benefit to legislators, program planners, media, and consumers who want clear and easily comprehensible information about snacking by adolescents in the United States.

Technical Abstract: The goals of this study were to track changes in snacking frequency over time, determine whether snacking is associated with food energy intake and body mass index (BMI), and measure the contribution of snacks to overall intakes of nutrients and MyPyramid food groups. Twenty-four hour dietary recall data from 2,072 adolescents 12-19 years of age participating in What We Eat In America (WWEIA), the dietary intake component of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005-2006 (NHANES), were analyzed. For the time comparison, data from 5,854 adolescents who participated in the Nationwide Food Consumption Survey 1977-78 were used. Regression procedures were used to test for associations between snacking frequency and survey year, food energy intake, and body mass index. The percentage of adolescents who consumed at least one snack on any given day in 2005-2006 (83 percent) was significantly higher than in 1977-78 (61 percent), and the mean number of snacks per person increased from 1.0 to 1.7 per day (p<.001). Although consuming more snacks in a day was associated with significantly higher food energy intake, it was not related to BMI. Foods and beverages consumed at snacks provided 23 percent of the day’s total intake of calories, higher proportions of carbohydrate, total sugars, vitamin C, and vitamin E, but lower proportions of most other nutrients. Snacks provided from 11 to 38 percent of the day’s total intake from the five MyPyramid food groups, 27 percent of discretionary calories, 34 percent of added sugars, and 20 percent of solid fats. Many of the foods that made the largest contributions to adolescents' MyPyramid intakes at snacks were also high in added sugars, solid fats, or both. Foods and beverages consumed as snacks represent a sizable proportion of total caloric intake for adolescents 12-19 years of age. Modification of food choices by adolescents at snacks in favor of items providing more nutrients at a lower caloric cost could greatly improve the overall quality of the total diet. The information furnished by this study is useful to anyone who is interested in the role of snacking in the diets of adolescents, including legislators, program planners, nutritionists, media, educators, and consumers.