- A study from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Australia found that children who are given a wider variety and larger quantity of snack foods ate significantly more. The size of containers or packages had little impact on either child or adult consumption, according to research published in the International Journal of Obesity.
- The study tested 1,299 children ages 11 and 12, as well as 1,274 parents. The children were given four types of snack boxes, with different sized boxes and quantity of items in each.
- Lead researcher Jessica Kerr told Food Navigator other studies have focused more on main meals than snacks, and studies of snacking behavior have been limited by self-reporting and small sample sizes.
Reducing the number and variety of snack food items available to children may be a more fruitful intervention than focusing on container or dishware size. The results of this study could change how companies and parents approach snacks for kids.
The items given to study participants were common pre-packaged and non-perishable snacks such as crackers and cheese, cookies, milk chocolate, granola bars and peaches. Following a 15-minute snack break, any remaining items were weighed to see how much was left over. The research showed that dishware and the size of packaging has very little effect on the amount consumed.
But this isn't the first study to show the negative potential in snacking for kids. Other studies have also linked childhood allergies to consuming processed junk food, as well as trends toward obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
These findings, paired with other research, could influence snack manufacturers making and marketing healthier products to offer more single-item products with less variety in a package to help curb overeating and obesity. While snack makers have long targeted kids, more recently companies have advertised better-for-you snacks to children. Chobani has a kids' line, while Kind Snacks and Kellogg's RxBar have also launched products geared toward children. PepsiCo's Frito-Lay division rolled out a new child-focused, non-GMO snack line last summer called Imagine, featuring yogurt crisps and cheese stars. And Ingenuity Brands recently introduced kids' yogurt designed to support developing brains.
The appeal of snacks seems to have no limit in the U.S., with sales hitting $33 billion in 2017, according to a Nielsen study. And snack bars — particularly granola, protein and meal replacement ones — have been at the top of the list in terms of dollar sales growth from 2013 to 2016, the study found. This new research likely won't slow down companies that want a bigger bite of the snacking market, but it might shift their focus off of package size.
This research suggests that more attention and resources should be directed toward offering children smaller amounts of food and less variety in pre-packaged items. It may take more lobbying and other involvement from parents and caregivers to make sure kids are provided with healthier snacks — as well as fewer ones and smaller amounts of them.