An HPRC study found that children consumed more salty and sugary foods and nearly twice as many calories when they brought their own after-school snack, as compared to when they consumed only program-provided snacks.
Little is known about how after-school settings may affect children’s dietary intake. Evidence suggests that snacks provided directly by afterschool programs rarely include sugary drinks, and afterschool programs receiving federal reimbursement for snacks must adhere to basic nutrition standards, but virtually nothing is known about the quality of snacks brought into after-school programs by children, whether from vending machines, local stores, or packed from home.
By recording snacks served to and brought in by nearly 300 children in 18 Boston after-school programs on five separate days, researchers found that nonprogram snacks contained more sugary beverages and candy than program provided snacks. Having a non-program snack was associated with significantly higher consumption of total calories compared to when a child only had a program snack to eat.
Snacking accounts for nearly 30 percent of total calorie intake for most US children aged 2 to 18 years, which makes it an important target area for improving children’s diets and potentially reducing childhood obesity. These findings suggest that after-school programs are a key setting for improving children’s snacks, and that policy strategies limiting nonprogram snacks or setting nutritional standards should be explored further as a way to promote child health.
If you represent or are interested in making your child’s after school environment healthier, check out these resources for healthy snacks and beverages, including sample menus, family newsletters, policy writing guides for a better snack time, and a fast map for eliminating sugary drinks.