After analysing the dietary intake of more than 1500 children over a 20 year period in the Bogalusa study, the researchers found 'no associations … between meal patterns and overweight status in children.' They even detected a considerable drop in snack consumption over the time frame.
"The Bogalusa Heart Study provided valuable insight into what both children and young adults eat and how children's dietary decisions affect their long-term health," said Gail Frank, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association that published the findings in its May issue.
Researchers at several institutions, including the Baylor College of Medicine, found that the number of children who consumed five or more snacks in a day went from 30 per cent in 1973-74 to 8 per cent by 1993-94.
During the same period, the number of kids who limited themselves to one or two snacks per day went from 25 per cent in 1973-74 to 52 per cent in 1993-94.
"In-depth and longitudinal research is needed to identify the complex causes of excess weight among children," Frank said.
The analysis also found that during the 20 year time period the percentage of children eating a school lunch declined significantly from 89.7 per cent to 78.2 per cent. Eating dinners prepared outside the home lept from 5.4 per cent to 19 per cent.
Frank emphasised that society - parents, the food industry, schools - had to push the qualitative aspect of food.
Obesity is one of the main causes of non-communicable diseases. The economic and healthcare costs of NCDs are already high in many developed countries. In the US alone that cost has risen to more than $120 billion annually.
The World Health Organisation estimates that in 1995 there were 18 million under-five children worldwide classified as overweight and 200 million obese adults. By 2000, this number had already lept to over 300 million.