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Evening snacking increases with more screen time, grad student finds

Children who tend to snack in the evening spend more time watching television and playing video games and their portion sizes get larger with the more screen time they get, according to a master’s student in kinesiology.

More than 1,000 students in Grades 6 to 8 from 26 schools in Windsor-Essex took part in a major survey last year conducted by researchers in the faculties of Human Kinetics, Nursing and Education. The survey analyzed – among other things – their nutritional intake, daily activity, body mass index and the amount of screen time they get.

An analysis of a subset of that data collected from that survey revealed an association between screen time, snacking and overall diet quality, according to Jillian Ciccone, a master’s student in kinesiology who studies under the guidance of professor Sarah Woodruff.

Ciccone – who recently published a paper on the subject in the academic journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism – found that about 37 per cent of all the snacks consumed by those students were sweets, like high-sugar desserts, making them the most common. A little more than 20 per cent of all snacks consumer were vegetables and fruit, with about 17 per cent being salty snacks like potato chips, crackers, peanuts and popcorn.

Participants had an average screen time of about 4.3 hours between the time they came home from school and the time they went to bed, according to the survey.

“Evening time was the worst time for sweet and salty snacks,” said Ciccone. “They’re spending a lot of time in front of their computers and TVs, and not very much time being active. As long as you can get your young adolescents and children up and moving for a little bit of time in the evening, they’re less likely to have those weet and salty snacks.”

Ironically, Ciccone just defended her master’s thesis earlier this week, and it was based on an assessment of an initiative aimed at correcting the very problems created by increased screen time and unhealthy snacking.

Kinect-Ed is a 90 minute motivational hands-on demonstration developed by Dr. Woodruff and celebrity chef Sandi Richard, and is aimed at getting kids involved in food preparation as a way to increase the frequency of healthy family meals.

More than 100 students from the Niagara Catholic District School Board who received the programming were surveyed both before and after attending the demonstration, which also included a free copy of Richard’s newest cookbook Anyone Can Cook Dinner. Ciccone noted an increase in the number of students who prepared meals and had more frequent family dinners after attending the program.

“What was so amazing was that it was just a 90 minute presentation in their school,” she said. “We inspired them and told them they have all of these things at home they can use to get involved in food preparation or family meals. They just need to use it. We told them they have the power to do it.”

Ciccone will appear today on Research Matters, a weekly talk show that focuses on the work of University of Windsor researchers and airs every Thursday at 4:30 p.m. on CJAM 99.1 FM.

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