CONTRARY to the traditional image of the French diet, unhealthy snacking between meals has become common, a study shows.
The five-year NutriNet-Santé study, which asked 180,000 internet users in France for regular updates on eating habits and health, has published findings at the two-year
mark. Snacking was the headline issue it flagged up.
It found 61% of participants were “snackers”, with 26% doing it “occasionally” (on two days out of three) and 35% “regularly” (every day). Occasional snackers obtain 13% of their daily calories from snacks compared to 22% for regular ones. The latter eat an average 484 calories from snacks each day, similar to a whole main course.
The more people snack the more the amount of fat and sugar in the diet goes up. Boosting the figures however was the fact that calorific drinks, like sugary pop, were included as “snacks”. Women were found to snack more than men (65% of women compared to 57% of men). Under-55s snacked more than over-55s (63% versus 58%) and highly educated people did so more than less-educated ones (63% versus 57%).
However snackers were also more common than average among the unemployed and those on benefits (66%). People were more likely to snack in the north and east and less in Paris and the south-west. Otherwise, the study found the large majority still eat three meals a day, with just 8% of men and 4% of women regularly only eating two. Breakfast is the meal most likely to be missed. Professor Serge Hercberg, in charge of the study, said this was reassuring, however he was surprised by the findings on snacks.
“We don’t know if it’s a new phenomenon, but I think it is because younger people were the most concerned. We are interested in seeing the reasons and the health consequences, because we saw it contributes to people eating more food of poor nutritional quality.”
He added: “We will issue questionnaires to find out why people snack - it could be stress, lifestyle, or being exposed to snack foods in the daily environment.”
He said they hoped to recruit half a million people over the five years of the study, which would help them “go a lot further” in research.
Dietician Tiphaine Flipo, from Montpellier, said the findings matched her professional experience: “I think people snack because they don’t eat properly-balanced meals.
When they manage to balance their main meals better, snacking disappears naturally.
“People think you have to eliminate starchy foods, but then they are hungry and not satisfied, so they snack more between meals. They also eat too many slimline products. They assume a 0% fat yogurt is going to fill them up just as much as a full-fat one, but an hour later it has not satisfied them and they are hungry again.”
Ms Flipo added: “Forty years ago people used to eat more sensibly. There was a break when supermarkets appeared, when industrial products became available. People are better off if they eat more unprocessed, simple foods.”
To take part in the NutriNet-Santé study, a not-for-profit state project, visit www.etude-nutrinet-sante.fr