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J Hum Nutr Diet. 2014 Aug;27(4):333-41. doi: 10.1111/jhn.12169. Epub 2013 Oct 18.

Reasons for eating 'unhealthy' snacks in overweight and obese males and females.

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Psychology Department, Swansea University, Swansea, UK.



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.


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).


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.


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


emotional eating; external eating; habit; hunger; obesity; snacking

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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