OU researcher examines the healthy and unhealthy snack choices of fourth- and fifth-grade students

Norman, Okla.—A health nutrition education program to fight childhood obesity in America is a possible outcome of a study by a University of Oklahoma researcher and a colleague. The study looked at factors affecting a child’s decision when choosing healthy or unhealthy snacks.

Paul Branscum, assistant professor, OU Department of Health and Exercise Science, College of Arts and Sciences, surveyed 167 fourth- and fifth-grade students in the Midwest to find out what snacks the students were eating between meals. Branscum asked the students to record their choices over a 24-hour-period.

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Survey results show students have more control when choosing snacks and, unfortunately, the high-caloric snacks are the least expensive. Overall, the group averaged 300 calories from high-calorie snacks, such as chips, cookies and candies—almost 17% of their daily caloric intake needs. It also showed children were consuming 45 calories from fruit and vegetable snacks, which is about half a piece of fruit.

Snacking has been linked to childhood obesity, so it is concerning to learn that female students consume more higher-caloric snacks than male students. African-American children consumed the least high-calorie snacks when compared with Hispanic, Caucasian and Asian children.

The study found that snack choices resulted from the student’s positive or negative intentions towards choosing healthy snacks. Also, a student’s snack choices resulted from their attitudes toward the snacks, pressure felt from peers and family members to eat healthy snacks, and the ability to control the choice of snacks.

“Changing a student’s attitude toward healthier snacks lies in the ability to show the immediate benefits of a healthier lifestyle,” says Branscum. “It’s doubtful they will see the long-term benefits that result from fighting obesity, which leads to chronic diseases in adulthood.”

Republished with permission from the University of Oklahoma.