by Kelly Hensel
There’s a phenomenon that has taken the United States by storm in the last 30–40 years. In session 136 “Snacking: Insight and perspectives on contributions to the American diet,” held Monday, June 13, three experts examined how snacking has taken over and its role in the growing obesity epidemic. Rick Mattes, Purdue University, kicked off the session by explaining that there is a lack of consensus on a definition for “snacking.” While researchers usually look at the time of day, portion size, and eating events to define snacking, consumers usually have their own definition based on the type of the food, where it is consumed, and its relation to meals. G. Harvey Anderson, University of Toronto, and his colleague G.H. Johnson, came up with their own definition:
“A snack is composed of solid foods including those typically eaten with a utensil (with or without a beverage) that occurs between habitual meal occasions for the individual, is not a substitute for a meal, and provides substantially fewer calories than would be consumed in a typical meal.”
There is definitely a need for a common definition for snacking. As Nancy Auestad, Dairy Research Institute, stated, “The line is very blurred between meals and snacking.” Often consumers self-define the term. Although the industry is lacking a definitive definition, there is no doubt that consumers are snacking more. According to Mattes, consumers have increased the number of snacks they are eating per day so much so that a quarter of total energy taken in is from snacks. “This is a substantial portion of daily calories coming from snacking,” explained Mattes.
While, Anderson didn’t include beverages in his definition of snacking, Mattes believes this is a key part of consumers’ snacking behavior. In fact, according to his data, 40–50% of snacking is happening through beverages. It may even be easier for consumers to take in more calories through beverage snacking than through food snacks. A study Mattes highlighted showed that daily energy intake—regardless of source—is higher when drunk as a beverage than eaten. So, it is obvious that food form is important.
Mattes went on to describe that energy intake is a function of how often one eats and the portion size of what is eaten. But he posed the question: “Which is a bigger player?” He believes that the amount of secondary meal times (snacking) has been increasing at “an alarming rate.” According to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data that Auestad shared, two-thirds of consumers report that they eat 2–4 snacks per day. And since Auestad believes that snacking is not where Americans are getting many of their nutrients from, there is a definite need for an understanding of the motivations for consumer snacking. In addition, “good tasting snacks that provide dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, and potassium can help consumers meet recommended intakes,” concluded Auestad.