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Physiol Behav. 2014 Jul;134:38-43. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2014.03.010. Epub 2014 Mar 19.

Meals and snacking, diet quality and energy balance.

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Department of Kinesiology, Faculty of Medicine, Laval University, Quebec, Canada. Electronic address:


The present obesity "epidemic" has been attributed to a growing trend for snacking. Snacking may contribute to excess energy intake and weight gain through different ways, for example: context/environment of eating, frequency of consumption and quality of food choices. The present article reviews data and hypotheses about the role of snacks in diet quality and body weight control. One obvious difficulty in this field is the diversity of definitions and approaches used in cross-sectional, longitudinal, and intervention studies. A brief paragraph reviews the prevalence of snacking in various countries and its recent evolution. The literature addressing the contribution of snacks to daily energy and nutrient intake presents two contrasting pictures. In many reports, snacking appears to facilitate the adjustment of energy intake to needs, and to contribute carbohydrates, rather than fats, to the diet, in addition to valuable micronutrients. Such results are usually reported in healthy, normal-weight children and adults. By contrast, snacking often appears to contribute much energy but little nutrition in the diet of other consumers, particularly obese children and adults. In addition to selecting energy-dense foods, eating in the absence of hunger in response to external non-physiological cues, in an irregular fashion, in contexts (e.g. while watching television) that do not favor attention to the act of eating, might be crucial factors determining the nutritional effects of snacking. While efforts should be continued to harmonize definitions and minimize the influence of under-reporting, interventions aimed at decreasing detrimental snacking should address both food-related aspects and behavioral components.


Body weight control; Diet quality; Energy balance; Meal; Snack

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