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Many Kids Skipping Meals, Snacking Instead

THURSDAY, Nov. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Many U.S. children are eating more snacks and skipping breakfast and dinner, meals that provide nutrients critical to youngsters' development, behavior and overall health, a new survey has found.

The American Dietetic Association Foundation poll of 1,193 pairs of parents and children (aged 8 to 17) found that breakfast is sometimes missed by 42 percent of white children and Hispanic children, and 59 percent of black children. Breakfast is rarely or never eaten by 12 percent of white and Hispanic children, and 18 percent of black children.

Previous studies have found that missing breakfast is associated with increased school absenteeism and tardiness, poor attention to tasks and lower test scores, Katie Brown, national education director for the ADA Foundation, noted in an ADA news release.

The survey also found that dinner is not eaten all the time by 22 percent of white children, 34 percent of black children and 38 percent of Hispanic children. Dinner is rarely or never eaten by 3 percent of white children and 5 percent of black and Hispanic children.

Snacks are often eaten to replace skipped meals, according to the survey. Snacking immediately after school was reported by 56.7 percent of white children, 57.8 percent of black children and 59.1 percent of Hispanic children. Regular snacking in the evening after dinner was reported by 24 to 26 percent of all the children, while about 23 percent of white kids, 30 percent of black kids and nearly 24 percent of Hispanic kids said they often or always ate snacks while watching television.

"The fact that children snack throughout the day provides an opportunity for parents and schools to offer nutrient-rich snacks to supplement any missed meals, and provide quality nutrition for children," Brown said in the news release.

Among the other survey findings:

  • The proportion of daily family meals eaten at home increased from 52 percent in 2003 to 73 percent in 2010, and nearly 73 percent of children are now eating at home on school nights, compared with about 52 percent in 2003.
  • Most children (51.4 percent of whites, 56.5 percent of blacks, 63.8 percent of Hispanics) said their families never or rarely (less than once a week) eat at fast-food or sit-down restaurants.
  • School lunches are eaten by 56 percent of white children, 75 percent of black children and 65 percent of Hispanic children. Children from low-income families are most likely (82 to 89 percent) to eat school lunches.
  • Most children said they would be more active if fun activities were offered before school (59 to 79 percent), during class (80 to 89 percent) or after school (77 to 92 percent). Most also said they would be more active if there were safe places to play in their neighborhood (66 to 86 percent) and if their friends wanted to be active (87 to 89 percent).
  • Most families (64.4 percent) engage in sedentary activities (watching TV or movies or playing video games) three or more days a week.

The survey findings were released Nov. 9 at the ADA's Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Boston.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about childhood nutrition.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Dietetic Association, news release, Nov. 9, 2010

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