Eating habits in the U.S. have changed significantly in recent decades, and packaged bars, chips, and sweets have spread into every corner of life. In the late 1970s, about 40 percent of American adults said they didn’t have any snacks during the day. By 2007, that figure was just 10 percent.
To get a better handle on the implications of different eating patterns, U.S. health officials are reviewing scientific research on how eating frequency affects health, including weight gain and obesity. The analysis is intended to gauge the broader spectrum of possibilities, including fasting. But snacking, grazing and “mini-meals” are likely to be among the factors considered, given how they have upended the three-meals-a-day model.
Findings could potentially be reflected in the government’s updated dietary guidelines next year, though any definitive recommendations are unlikely.
For public health officials, part of the challenge is that snacking is a broad term that can mean a 100-calorie apple or a 500-calorie Frappuccino. How people adjust what they eat the rest of the day also varies. Snacks may help reduce hunger and overeating at meals, but they can also just push up the total calories someone consumes.
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