The Strongest Determinant Of What Americans Eat Is


Snacking has become an integral part of the American diet, with snacks accounting for nearly 22% of the total energy intake among adults [^1^][^2^]. It’s no surprise that over 90% of U.S. adults report consuming snacks on a daily basis [^1^], with an average of 1.2 to 3.0 snacking occurrences per day [^3^]. Snacking frequency and volume have been on the rise [^5^], as individuals snack for various reasons such as physiological or emotional hunger for energy and satiety [^4^].

The Impact of Snacking on Health

Snacking, like any dietary behavior, can have both positive and negative outcomes. On the positive side, snacking can help individuals meet their recommended intake of essential nutrients like fruits, dairy products, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It can also prevent digestive and metabolic overload that can be caused by fewer, larger meals [^7^][^8^][^9^][^10^]. However, excessive snacking can lead to weight gain and poor diet quality, which increases the risk of noncommunicable diseases, the leading causes of death worldwide [^11^][^12^]. Regardless of their nutrient content, snacks have become a significant component of daily dietary patterns [^13^].

The Role of Context in Snack Selection

The context in which we snack plays a crucial role in our food choices and eating behaviors. Snacking can occur in various settings, such as at home, work, social functions, during commutes, or while using electronic devices [^11^]. While any food can be consumed as a snack, snack foods tend to be easily consumable products like cookies and potato chips, which often have a poor nutrient profile—low in micronutrients, high in sugars and/or added fat, and low in fiber [^14^]. What we consume while snacking, just like during meals, affects our nutrient and energy balance [^15^][^16^].

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Understanding Eating Occasions

Eating occasions refer to any time a person eats or drinks. Compared to regular meals, snacks are more irregular in terms of both schedule and composition [^11^]. Meals typically occur between specific hours, like breakfast, lunch, and dinner, while snacks are typically characterized by casual consumption of small quantities of food outside of these designated times [^18^][^19^].

Influences on Food Choice

Food selection is a complex process influenced by various factors. While taste, price, healthfulness, and convenience all play a role in food choices, social norms also have a significant impact on our eating patterns [^21^][^22^]. People driven by health may make healthier food choices, but social pressure can lead them to consume popular snack foods [^23^]. Additionally, eating with others tends to increase food consumption, a phenomenon known as social facilitation of eating [^24^]. These social influences work alongside physiological variables like hunger to shape our eating behaviors [^4^][^25^].

The Motivations Behind Snacking

The motivations behind eating are multifaceted. Among adults, the primary motivations for eating include health, hunger, pleasure, sociability, and tradition [^23^]. Factors like pricing, habit, sociability, and traditional eating practices also influence specific food choices [^26^][^28^]. However, most research on snacking has primarily focused on how eating behaviors affect energy balance and weight status [^29^][^30^]. There is a lack of comprehensive information on snack consumption among U.S. adults specifically. This scoping review aims to bridge this gap by answering questions related to snack food choice, consumption patterns, and motivations in the adult population. The findings from this review could inform recommendations and nutrition education practices to promote healthier eating habits [^40^][^41^].

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