When American kids reflect upon their childhoods decades from now, snacks may figure more prominently in their memories - and around their waists - than meals shared around a table.
From 1977 to 2006, American children have added 168 snack calories per day to their diets, a study finds. For some, those extra 1,176 calories a week could amount to as much as 13 1/2 pounds of body fat a year.
Those non-meal noshes now account for more than a quarter of their average daily caloric intake, said Barry M. Popkin of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, author of the study published Tuesday in the journal Health Affairs.
The research establishes just how much the omnipresence of snacks - and the $68 billion-a-year industry that sells them - has contributed significantly to an epidemic of excess weight among U.S. children.
Dr. Judy Palfrey, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the study's findings pointed to one of many factors that had pushed the nation's rate of child obesity to 16.4 percent in 2007 - an increase of roughly 10 percent since 2003 alone.
"We see milk intake and meal intake are going down; the consumption of fatty and salty foods is going up. Everybody is very busy, on the go all the time, not having three meals at home," Palfrey said.
American families need to "think about healthier replacements" for between-meals food, Paley says, and they need to hear those messages from their children's physicians.