The Contribution of Snacking to Overall Diet Intake among an Ethnically and Racially Diverse Population of Boys and Girls

Published:November 25, 2019DOI:



      Children in low-income and minority populations are at risk for poor dietary quality. At least one-third of the calories consumed by children are eaten between meals (ie, snacks). The contribution of snacking to diet quality among children is poorly understood.


      The current study examined associations between snacking and children’s diet quality along with differences across ethnicity or race, sex, and weight status.


      Cross-sectional data came from Phase I of the Family Matters Study, an observational study.


      This study included 150 families with children aged 5 to 7 years old from six ethnic or racial groups (n=25 from each: African American, Hispanic, Hmong, Native American, Somali, non-Hispanic white); data were collected in Minneapolis–Saint Paul, MN in 2017-2018.

      Main outcome measures

      Total daily energy (kilocalories), overall diet quality using the Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2010), and food group intakes (eg, fruit, vegetables, refined grains, sugar-sweetened beverages [SSB]) were assessed using three 24-hour dietary recalls.

      Statistical analyses performed

      Conditional fixed effects estimators (within-child variation) were used in regression analyses to characterize the relationship between daily snacking and dietary intake relative to dietary intake at all other daily meal occasions. Mean (±standard deviation) overall dietary intake including all meals and snacks was compared with mean (±standard deviation) intake of meals only.


      Among boys, snacking was found to contribute positively to HEI-2010 scores (HEI-2010=57.6, HEI-2010 without snacks=55.0; effect size [ES]=0.28, P=0.03). Snacking was an important source of fruit (ES=0.71) and dairy (ES=0.53), but also contributed to children’s consumption of refined grains (ES=0.68) and SSB (ES=0.31). Very few vegetables were consumed as snacks. Furthermore, snacks contributed more to the overall diet quality (HEI-2010) of Native American (ES=0.30) and Somali (ES=0.35) youth as compared with youth from other ethnic or racial backgrounds.


      Findings suggest that snacks have the potential to improve diet quality in children. Future research should examine influences on children’s food choices at snack times and barriers to serving more healthful foods as snacks that are faced by ethnically or racially diverse families.


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      K. A. Loth is an assistant professor, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      A. Trofholz is a research study coordinator, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      J. M. Berge is a professor, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      A. D. Tate is an assistant professor, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Univeristy of Georgia, Athens; at the time of the study, he was a PhD student, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.


      J. Orlet Fisher is a professor, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, College of Public Health, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA.


      D. Neumark-Sztainer is a professor, Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.