Eating between meals is not a recent phenomenon but can be traced back to the hunter- gatherer past when food was consumed more frequently during the day. The act of snacking is often regarded as being a bad habit and is usually associated with undesirable health outcomes.
However, this varies depending on the type of snack (energy dense vs. nutrient dense) consumed and other dietary habits of the individual.
Over the past few decades, there has been an increase in the consumption of snacks worldwide. However, there are differences in the pattern and rate among the various countries studied.
According to Jahns et al. (2001) 91% of US children aged between 6-11 years snack whereas among Chinese children of the same age group, only 11% were snacking (Waller et al. 2003, p.3).
In European countries, the popularity of snacks varies from country to country. According to statistics, Scottish adolescents aged 15 years consume an average of 2.8 snacks daily (Anderson et al. 1993 cited Savige 2007, p.2) while Portuguese aged between 5-15 years had an intake of 1.5 snacks per day (Marques et al. 2006 cited Savige 2007, p.2).
There are several contexts which favour snacking among adolescents. These have been explored and the results show that teenagers snack more frequently after school, while watching television and while hanging out with friends. However, this frequency was reduced when they do homework and when on the run on the way to and from school (Savige 2007, p.4).
Snacking has also been positively associated with meal skipping since adolescents who snack have an increased likelihood to skip a meal depending on the time when the snacks are consumed (Savige 2007,p.8). That is, those who snack at night would more probably skip breakfast since there has been a decrease in the length of overnight fasting period which ultimately result in loss of hunger in the morning.
According to Silliam et al. (2004, p.6), there are gender differences in the reason for snacking, the type of snacks and the frequency of soda and alcohol consumption. The most common reason for snacking among both genders is ‘boredom” and “partying” was most often stated among men whereas “emotional” was more popular among women.
The snacking practice of youngsters is also influenced by their peer snack consumption. It has been shown that adolescents with friends who have regular snacking patterns are more likely to consume snacks (Wouters et al. 2010, p.12). Moreover, some adolescents choose unhealthier snacks when around with friends since, according to them, it is more socially accepted to have a piece of chocolate than a carrot (Pei-Lin 2004).
Still, it is important to note that though, the act of snacking is usually viewed as a bad habit, many snacks are considered to be healthy based on their nutritional composition.