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After School Snacks Weigh Down Our Kids

By: The Food Coach

Weight management experts from The Children's Hospital at Westmead say new research confirms that Australian kids are getting the balance wrong when it comes to after school snacks.

Unveiled this week at the Dietitians Association of Australia's National Conference, the survey represents the first data available on Australian students after school eating habits, and reveals our kids are consuming snacks high in processed carbohydrates, but often lacking in essential nutrients.

The survey examined the eating habits of children aged 5 to 8 years of age, both during and after school, and was sourced from Secondary Analysis of the 2007 Australian National Children's Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey commissioned by Unilever Australia. Analysis was completed by Dr Manny Noakes from CSIRO.

"For some time we have suspected that children have been eating too much, and too much processed food after school and finally we have real evidence of this," said Susie Burrell, Specialist Obesity Dietitian from The Children's Hospital at Westmead.

The survey revealed that children are consuming large amounts of highly processed, carbohydrate rich foods after school such as biscuits, cereal bars and confectionery. Carbohydrate contributes to 57 per cent of energy intake during the after school snack period (60 per cent of which is sugars), whilst 30 per cent is provided by fat (nearly half of this is saturated fat). Nutritionally this means that children are lacking in key nutrients including iron, protein and calcium. Such highly processed foods are also digested rapidly, leaving kids vulnerable to energy fluctuations and overeating.

The children surveyed were also found to be consuming one-sixth of their total day's energy after school, making it a significant contributor to total daily energy intake.

"Consumption of such highly processed, non-nutritious foods means that children are missing out on key nutrients, are unlikely to be kept full and more likely to overeat during the after school period and then eat poorly at dinner time," said Ms Burrell.

"While it is normal for growing children to be hungry after school, it is important for parents to remember that after school snacks for children need to contain some positive nutritional properties such as protein, low GI, wholegrain carbohydrates and calcium." She suggests that good food choices for after school snacks include: low fat dairy foods such as low fat flavoured milk, cheese, yoghurt and ice cream, wraps with lean meat or cheese or portion controlled wholegrain snack bars.

Prof Louise Baur, Director, Weight Management Services, at The Children's Hospital at Westmead said that establishing good snacking habits early had serious implications for ongoing health.

"Healthy eating is vital to being a healthy child," said Prof Baur. "These results show that Australian children are snacking on too many poor quality foods when they come home from school. This eating pattern contributes to the risk for obesity and related health problems such as pre-diabetes, as well as dental cavities.

"By providing healthy snack choices for children, parents can lay a foundation for the future health of their child."

The Children's Hospital at Westmead has tips about healthy snack choices, and other nutritional advice for parents, available at


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