Here is reinforcement for what most of us already knew, and what the rest of us suspected: Children snack a lot. Now, here's the surprise element - kids in Chennai top the list, with 93 per cent of them having a snack every day.

A pan-India study on snacking by AC Nielsen showed that pre-dinner snacking is most prominent amongst Chennai's children. Not just snacks, but unhealthy snacks that impact on the appetite for dinner as well. According to the study, the pre-dinner period (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. slot) is when the highest intake of unhealthy foods takes place.

The study, sponsored by Knorr, surveyed 1,000 respondents from Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, and Kolkata. It covered homemakers, working women (mothers) in the age group of 26-40, belonging to middle and upper income households.

The study indicates that the top five pre-dinner snacks among children are biscuits, fruits, noodles, pastas, chips and sandwiches.

Shyamala Jayamoorthy, consultant, Paediatrics and Neonatology, Apollo Children's Hospital, says it is the family that programmes children for the way they snack. “Often it starts out as a bribe – offering a snack as a bribe to do things.

In homes where parents work, grandparents who take care of children pamper the children by giving them an extra snack.”

When a child begins to binge on snacks, this eats into their dinner appetite, and feeding patterns go for a toss. They get hungry at odd hours and in the more extreme cases, the children develop obesity, fatty liver, and other metabolic syndromes, Dr. Shyamala adds.

Anoop Mishra, Director, Diabetes & Metabolic Diseases Fortis Hospitals, New Delhi, says the physiological effects of snacking on children depend on the total calories, the presence of transfats and refined carbohydrates (like maida).

“All this has adverse effects on insulin secreted by the body and other poisonous substances like cytokines. There are multiple effects on the body, affecting the liver, heart and pancreas. Over a period of time, this will predispose the children to metabolic disregulation, high cholesterol and sugar levels.”

Fatty liver is becoming common in children, as are obesity, poly cystic ovarian disease, and obstructive sleep apnea, he adds.

Dr. Mishra has also led a research study on tiffin box content of school children in India. Almost 75-80 per cent children were consuming unhealthy snacks. Having controls on the kind of food available in school canteens is another important intervention, Dr. Shyamala says.