How Snacks Can Help or Hurt Your New Year’s Resolution

As we approach the New Year, many of us are thinking about our New Year’s resolutions. For many, this includes losing weight and developing healthier habits. In fact, if this year is anything like last year, according to a Wall Street Journal article, 42% of people list losing weight as one of their top resolutions. Unfortunately, losing weight also ranked as one of the top “unachieved resolutions” in the same study.

According to a 2008 study conducted by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey group, the type of snack you eat can greatly affect the success of your diet. The study found that although the number of snacks consumed by the average person per day has doubled in the past 30 years, the number of snacks consumed in a day did not differ significantly by weight across the surveyed population, suggesting that the type of snack heavily determines the success of a diet.

In 2011 Mintel conducted their own study, which found that the average person consumes 2.6 snacks a day, 78% of which were considered healthy. While the study had respondents self classify “healthy snack” (and as discussed in the last post that the definition of “healthy” is highly contextual and subjective), it does show that the importance of healthy snacking is getting through to consumers and many engage in strategic snacking to try and manage their weight. In their study, Mintel found that healthy snacking tendencies varied by age and gender. While women were overall more likely to report eating healthy snacks, healthy snacking was found to be lower among 18-34 year olds and families with young children.

Mintel found that families with small children tend to eat more snacks then average, roughly 2.7 snacks per day since children tend to have faster metabolism then adults. For families, the biggest hurdle to healthy snacking is finding a snack that is not only nutritious, comes in kid-friendly portions and is portable, but most importantly is something kids actually like/want to eat. As mentioned in the last post, many families with children will sacrifice the “health acceptance level” of a snack and settle for a marginally healthy snack, such as a whole-wheat cracker, in order to gain taste and portability.

Consumers who are between the ages of 18-34 were also found to consume the less healthy snacks, consuming 6% less healthy snacks then average consumer. According to Mintel, this is due in part to the cultural trend of “on the go snacking”, where quick snacks take the place of meals. This is especially troublesome for those wishing to lose weight, as skipping meals have been shown to slow metabolism and lead to binge snacking. Mintel found that higher snacking frequency is associated with higher total calorie intake, about 1.5 times as many calories as adults who do not snack.

So while healthy snaking can help you achieve your weight management goals, unhealthy snacking can spell the death of your diet. According to Alexander Chernev, an associated professor of marketing at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and author of the New Year resolution study, “When making our resolutions, we think ‘big picture’ and focus on the long-term. Then life takes over. When given the choice between the immediate gratification of indulging now and the future gratification of losing weight, people tend to by myopic and favor the short term”. Since on-the-go snacking trend remains strong, it is up to food companies to create products that not only fit into consumer’s busy lifestyles, but also are nutritious.

While the majority of snackers consume healthy snacks, consumers also desire an indulgent snack during the day. Mintel suggests that food companies create healthy snacks that include indulgent flavors, such a chocolate, so that consumers can treat themselves in a way that does not ruin their diet. In addition, food companies should look into creating more filling, meal-replacement options that are easy to grab-and-go that will help consumers feel full longer. This will help consumers resist the urge to binge snack, and hopefully enable them to attain their goals for the New Year.

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