Why do obese people snack?

Consumption of snack foods is generally associated with greater energy intake by virtue of the high fat and sugar content of typically consumed snack items. In their paper “Reasons for eating ‘unhealthy’ snacks in overweight and obese males and females” Cleobury & Tapper reported the findings of a 5-day study of 55 overweight and obese subjects. In this group consumption of snack foods was explored by means of a 5-day food diary and a validated check-list of reasons for eating. The study found that the majority of snack-eating episodes were due to hunger and temptation (external eating) or emotional eating (in response to stress or boredom). The abstract for the paper is below.

 

Background

Snack foods are often high in fat and sugar. Thus, reducing snack consumption may be a useful weight management strategy. However, individuals may snack for a variety of reasons with different implications for intervention. The present study examined the perceived reasons for eating main meals, ‘unhealthy’ snacks (i.e. snacks high in fat or sugar) and ‘healthy’ snacks in overweight and obese participants.

Methods

Over a period of 5 days, 28 males and 27 females completed a food diary every time they ate. As well as providing details about the type of eating episode and food eaten, they also rated their agreement with 13 different reasons for eating (identified from relevant literature and a pilot study).

Results

Across a total of 1084 eating episodes, 358 were coded as snacks, 79% of which were high in either fat or sugar. The results showed that hunger and temptation (external eating) were reported as a reason for eating unhealthy snacks in 49% and 55% of all episodes, respectively. Eating because the individual was feeling fed up, bored or stressed (emotional eating) was given as a reason in 26% of episodes.

Conclusions

These findings point to the potential utility of intervention strategies that target cravings, enhance self-control or promote stimulus control.

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