Do you sometimes grab a bag of chips before dinner, or cop a Snickers a few hours after lunch? Apparently, your snacking habits are doing more harm than you know.

Vox pulled some data together to show us what America’s obesity epidemic is really about: ladies and gentlemen, we have a serious snack problem.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In David Cutler, Edward Glaeser, and Jesse Shapiro’s 2003 study titled “Why Have Americans Become More Obese?,” the researchers concluded that America’s increased calorie intake isn’t happening at mealtimes—it’s happening when we snack. Vox writes, “What [the data] shows is that pretty much all of America’s increased calorie consumption between the late-1970s and the mid-1990s came from increased snacking.” 

Looks like increased portion sizes and eating giant meals isn’t the number one problem here (although it isn’t healthy, either).

While the research relied on subjects to self-report snacking habits, it still makes some strong points: In 1977-1978, 28 percent of people polled reported eating two or more snacks per day. By 1994-1996, that number was up to 45 percent.

Vox dug deeper and found that in 1996, average American caloric intake in snacks per day was 423 calories, but by 2006, that had risen to 580 calories.

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Photo: Pixabay

Although the NYT‘s quest to document the calories in different Chipotle orders provides useful information that can help people make healthy decision, Vox points out that it still doesn’t solve our snacking problem.

Purdue University professor of nutrition Richard D. Mattes told LiveScience in 2011 that by eating so many calories in snacks over the course of a day, we’re essentially packing in a fourth meal’s worth of calories. He also called out “calorie-rich beverages,” (remember a Venti Mocha Frappuccino with whole milk is 520 calories, 150 of which are straight fat), and says they now account for up to 50 percent of the calories not consumed as part of meals.

Mattes added,

“Snacking may be an important source of nutrients that we would like to increase in our diet. But when snacks become a source of excess calories, they contribute to obesity.

It’s my view that snacking is problematic when it is done in an unplanned or mindless sort of way, and when it contains a high proportion of beverages.”

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Barry Popkin, professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, told LiveScience,

“Salty snacks, sugar-sweetened beverages and all the other foods consumed as snacks contain far too many calories, and are helping to fuel the epidemic of obesity and diabetes. We need to reduce the number of snacks if we can. If not, the other option is to consume water, unsweetened tea and coffee, and fruit and vegetables only for snacks.”

[via Vox]