Understanding the relationship between snacking and dietary intake in early life years is one key but understudied area. In this study, we examined snacking patterns in toddlers and preschool children and the associations between snacking frequency and daily energy intake. We analyzed data from children aged 12-72 months (N = 1186) in the Newborn Epigenetic STudy (NEST). We used Bonferroni multiple comparison methods to examine the differences in snacking patterns across subgroups. Linear and quantile regression models were fit to investigate the association between dietary intake and snacking frequency. Our estimates suggest that Non-Hispanic blacks had the highest total daily energy intake from snacks (334 kcal/day) compared to non-Hispanic whites (270 kcal/day) and Hispanics (274 kcal/day) in 12-to-24-month-olds. In 2-to-6-year-olds, mean energy intake from snacks was 296 kcal/day without a significant racial/ethnic difference. Carbohydrate, fat and protein from snacks contributed about 17%, 9% and 4% respectively of the total energy intake in 12-to-24-month-olds while they contributed about 15%, 7% and 2% respectively of the total energy intake in the other age group. Snacking frequency was positively and significantly associated with total daily energy intake in both 12-to-24-month-olds and 2-to-6-year-olds as indicated by regression coefficient estimates of snacking frequency (β = 31.3 kcal/day with P = 0.027 and β = 175.4 kcal/day with P < 0.0001, respectively, indicating a higher snacking frequency was associated with a greater total daily energy intake). In conclusion, snacking frequency was positively associated with daily energy intake. Carbohydrates and fats from snacks are significant energy contributors. Age differentiation was apparent regarding the relationship between snacking frequency and dietary intake. Differentiated interventions that are age-specific and focus on the dietary quality of snacks instead of quantity are needed.
Keywords: Diet quality; Dietary intake; Preschooler; Snacking; Toddler.
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