England’s main public health authority is urging parents to draw the line on kids’ snacks, and limit them to two a day of 100-calories each. Kids on average eat at least three high-calorie sugary snacks and drinks a day, with one-third eating four or more. That means kids are consuming three times more sugar than is recommended.
Public Health England used the day after New Year’s, when many of us are focused on improving health and wellness, to launch its Change4Life campaign, recommending the 100-calorie limit on snacks, encouraging grocery stores to identify better options for customers, and offering healthy recipes and “swaps” for parents wanting to replace unhealthy snacks with healthier ones.
“The volume of sugar kids are getting from snacks and sugary drinks alone is pretty mind-blowing, and it can often be difficult to distinguish which snacks are healthy and which aren’t,” said Justine Roberts, CEO and founder of the popular parenting site Mumsnet in a statement.
The “100 calorie snacks, two-a-day max” recommendation does not include fruit and vegetables, since kids should be eating at least five of these a day.
Not surprisingly, typical unhealthy snacks are high in calories, the public health body said, offering these examples:
- an ice-cream contains around 175 calories
- a pack of crisps contains around 190 calories
- a chocolate bar contains around 200 calories
- a pastry contains around 270 calories
Healthier snacks include fresh or tinned fruit salad, chopped vegetables, lower fat hummus, plain rice cakes, crackers, lower fat cheese, small low-fat, lower sugar yogurt, sugar-free jelly (Jello), crumpets (sort of like squishy English muffins, which oddly are not English at all), and small pancakes. Public Health England noted these 100-calorie snacks (not surprisingly citing many from Tesco, the British grocery chain, which is joining the campaign):
- Tesco Healthy Living Apple and Strawberry cereal bar
- Tesco Goodness Banana cereal bar
- Bag of Lentil Curls sour cream (20g or 0.7oz)
- Salt and vinegar rice cakes
- One small Soreen Banana lunchbox loaf
- Petit Filous Strawberry & Raspberry yogurt pot (85g or 3oz)
- Tesco Crunchy carrot and hummus dip pack (80g or 2.8oz)
According to Public Health England, one in 10 children arrive at school, aged four, overweight, and a third of kids leave primary school obese or overweight. A quarter of children (24.7%) suffer from tooth decay by the time they turn five. Tooth extraction is the most common cause of hospital admissions in children aged five to nine years.
In the US, public health campaigns to get kids eating better and drinking fewer sugary drinks have had some success.
Comparing US data from 1989 to 2006, one study of snack consumption among kids aged two to 18 found that consumption of snacks that were sweet (cakes, cookies, pies, bars, ice cream, and gelatin desserts) and salty (crackers, chips, popcorn, and pretzels) increased significantly from 22% to 27% of daily calories over that period.
But more recent data from 2003 to 2010 found that the number of calories from sugar-sweetened beverages declined significantly for nearly all age groups of children, as measured by body weight, with significant declines in the number of calories from salty snacks among white children aged two to five and six to eleven. This suggests efforts to change behavior were reaching some, but not all audiences. The report concluded that “levels of SSB [sugar-sweetened beverages] and snack consumption from 2003-2010 are unacceptably high.”
Reasons for the improvements included an increasing share of school districts prohibiting vending machines offering high-calorie, low-nutrition foods, and also replacing soft drinks with water. There were also fewer ads targeting soft drinks to kids and increased advocacy for healthy eating.