National survey data demonstrates that increases in the contribution of snacks to total dietary intake among adolescents have coincided with increases in obesity over the past few decades, and that the contribution of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods to the calories consumed at snack occasions has grown. These trends have raised public health concerns;however, snacking is a complex dietary behavior that is as yet not well understood. Given the high prevalence of obesity and poor dietary patterns among youth, there is an urgent need for research that places snacking within the context of overall meal patterns (e.g., breakfast frequency). Research is needed to address gaps in the evidence base regarding the consequences of snacking behaviors for dietary intake and weight-related health and identify influences on these behaviors. To advance the development of effective interventions and ensure their relevance for youth at greatest risk for obesity, there is a particular need for more information on snacking behaviors among adolescents from racial/ethnic minority groups and low-income backgrounds. This study aims to investigate snacking behaviors within the context of overall meal patterns and influences on snack consumption as well as associations with dietary intake and weight-related health in a population-based sample of adolescents. The findings will inform the development of more effective programs, services, and policies to promote healthy eating. Analyses will use recent data previously collected for two, linked NIH R01 studies;one with adolescents and one with their parents/caregivers. Innovative statistical techniques will be combined with uniquely comprehensive information on aspects on meal patterns, behaviors, and settings that may influence weight status in diverse populations, including types and sources of meals and snacks, media exposure to snack foods and beverages, snacking behaviors of friends, family meal frequency, meal skipping, and availability of snack foods and beverages within the school environment and surrounding neighborhood. For example, analyses will consider the combined contribution of high access to snacks in school and in one's neighborhood along with frequent snacking among friends to dietary intake of energy-dense, snack foods and beverages. The study population includes 2,540 adolescents (ages 13-18 years, 53% female) from Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN who participated in EAT 2010 (Eating and Activity in Teens) and their parents/caregivers who participated in Project F-EAT (Families and Eating and Activity in Teens). The population-based adolescent sample was drawn from urban middle schools and high schools and includes a high percentage of youth from ethnic/racial minority (80%) and low-income backgrounds (71% qualified for free/reduced price school meals).
Study aims will be addressed using information collected directly from the adolescent (including measured height and weight), parent(s), friend(s), and school personnel along with Geographic Information Systems data on neighborhood food access and researcher-coded data on the content in popular television programs.
Frequent snacking among adolescents is of public health concern given the potential for foods and beverages consumed between meals to contribute to poor nutrition, excess energy intake, and weight gain. The proposed research will provide guidance for the development of nutrition programs, services, and policies through a comprehensive investigation of multi-contextual influences on snack consumption and linkages to dietary intake and weight-related health. This project is relevant to NIH calls for research to develop interventions for populations at risk for obesity as the study sample includes a high proportion of racial/ethnic minority and economically disadvantaged youth.