Adolescent snacking behaviors are associated with dietary intake and weight status

Nicole I. Larson, Jonathan M. Miller, Allison W. Watts, Mary T. Story, Dianne R. Neumark-Sztainer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Background: Most adolescents consume ≥1 snack/d; exploring the relevance of snacking patterns for overall diet and weight status is important to guide dietary counseling and public health strategies for obesity prevention. Objective: This study examined intake of common energy-dense snack foods, total number of snacks consumed, frequency of consuming snacks prepared away from home, and frequency of snacking while watching television in adolescents and how these behaviors may be linked to diet and weight status. Relations were examined with attention to potential confounders that may help explain the mixed findings of previous research. Methods: Survey measures of snacking behavior, a food-frequency questionnaire, and anthropometric measurements were completed by 2793 adolescents (53.2% girls, mean age = 14.4 y) in Minneapolis-St. Paul school classrooms in 2009-2010. Linear regression was used to examine associations with adjustment for sociodemographic characteristics and other potential confounding factors, such as meal skipping, underreporting energy intake, dieting to lose weight, and physical activity. Results: Adolescents reported consuming a mean of 2.2 energy-dense snack food servings/d and 4.3 snacks/d and purchasing snacks prepared away from home on 3.2 occasions/wk. More than two-thirds of adolescents reported that they sometimes, usually, or always consumed a snack while watching television. The measures of snacking were directly associated (P < 0.01) with higher energy, lower fruit/vegetable, higher sugar-sweetened beverage, and more frequent fast-food intakes in all models except for one: Energy-dense snack food servings were not related to sugar-sweetened beverage intake. A direct relation between daily servings of energy-dense snack foods and body mass index (BMI) z score was found; however, the snacking behaviors were inversely related to BMI z score (P < 0.01). Conclusions: The observed cross-sectional associations suggest that snack consumption is a risk factor for poor diet, but unless energy-dense foods are consumed, snacking does not consistently contribute to overweight in US adolescents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1348-1355
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Nutrition
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 American Society for Nutrition.


  • Adolescents
  • Dietary quality
  • Fast-food restaurants
  • Snacking
  • Weight status


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