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Do Americans Snack Too Much?

Do Americans Snack Too Much?

Potato chips, trail mix, cookies; the list of snack foods available these days is endless. Over the last five years, the snack food industry has grown at around 3.8 percent every year, and this year it will pull in about $34.6 billion. Are we snacking too much?

Well, we’re definitely snacking more. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reports that over the last several decades, the percentage of Americans who snack at least three times a day has nearly tripled, going from 20 percent in the 1990s to 56 percent in 2010. Back in the 1970s, there were even fewer people snacking, when the same number was around 10 percent.

But what’s most disconcerting is that many Americans are replacing actual meals with snacks. Snacking in an of itself isn’t necessarily bad, but while it’s one thing to eat small portions of healthy foods several times a day, it’s quite another to be downing packaged snack foods to keep yourself going.

The rise is snacking of course means a rise in companies offering things to snack on. As the WSJ reports, over at General Mills, the snack division has seen a 6 percent rise in sales over the last year. The meals department however isn’t doing so well; the division that handles Hamburger Helper and other brands saw its sales fall by 4 percent.

And General Mills isn’t alone. According to CNBC, “Oscar Mayer launched “portable protein packs” including one with ham, cheese and almonds, ConAgra Foods offers small microwavable bowls of Chef Boyardee lasagna and ravioli, and Nestle sells “snack pizzas” and stuffed pretzels under the Lean Cuisine brand. Breakfast food companies such as Kellogg’s have developed breakfast bars to prop up flagging sales, submitting to the will of busy people who are taking their morning bite on the way to work.”

Clearly it’s the day and age of the packaged, processed mini-meal where we don’t take time to sit down to a enjoy our food with other people. But when we lose meals, we lose more than just the nutrients; there’s an emotional and cultural component that slips away as well. Sadly, that isn’t going to stop anytime soon as the food industry is also ensuring that they get snackers when they’re young.

In the U.S. the food and beverage industry spends $1.79 billion every year marketing to kids, with $1 billion of that going directly to kids ages 2 to 11. Of those marketing dollars, 72 percent is spent on carbonated beverages, cereals and fast food. In other words, nobody is putting millions into hawking carrot sticks.

The snack food industry is also cashing in on marketing products that seem healthier than others, but things like “healthy option” granola bars are often as bad as candy bars because they are packed with high fructose corn syrup, artificial colorings and the like. “They are highly-engineered sugar delivery systems,” Dr. Sean C. Lucan at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine told Market Watch. Add to that the fact that marketing claims like “natural” are essentially meaningless, and you have an entire industry that is doing anything but offering us healthy options for our snack foods.

Do we snack too much? The answer seems to be yes and, as long as we keep doing it, we can expect a food industry that keeps serving us more and more of what we don’t need.

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Photo Credit: Andy Melton

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129 comments

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1:15AM PDT on Jul 24, 2014

Thank you!

2:47PM PDT on Jul 21, 2014

Thanks

5:50AM PDT on Jul 21, 2014

Thanks.

8:32PM PDT on Jul 20, 2014

I sure do!

6:49PM PDT on Jul 19, 2014

Oh think about what you eat, some granola bars are not that healthy read what's in them!
Thank you

10:31AM PDT on Jul 19, 2014

Yes! We snack too much.

5:20AM PDT on Jul 19, 2014

Granola bars taste like candy to me. I hand them out at Halloween. No kid has said yuck yet so I imagine they find them like candy too.

4:14AM PDT on Jul 19, 2014

Oh my god, yes it is. People snack and drink constantly. And mindlessly. And watch TV, or play on their phones, not really paying attention to the act of eating. Packaged foods for snacks, packaged foods for meals.

Let's cover the world with packaging, get really fat and die of heart conditions! Yay!

Drink water. If you must snack, eat raw veggies or nuts and seeds. Chances are blood sugar levels are not really the problem for most, and they should not be constantly elevated anyway.

It really is amazing to me how much food, and people's perceptions of it have changed in the last 30 years. Lazy now seems the norm. Sad.

1:07AM PDT on Jul 19, 2014

ty

7:49PM PDT on Jul 18, 2014

We need to make drastic and huge changes to improve our health in America. The writing has been on the wall for quite some time.

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