Grandma Was Right, Children Don’t Need Snacks (Pedcast)


Doc Smo here, your pedcast host. Thanks for joining me today. News flash, life expectancy in the US has fallen for the past three years straight. I am sure there are many reasons for this but I am afraid that this fact may not just be a temporary aberration, but a glimpse of things to come in the future? Could it be that your children’s life will be shorter and sicker than the one you are living?  Could the obesity epidemic among American children be teeing up this generation for a world of hurt in the future? I fear so and if you stay with me for a few minutes and I will explain why this is and, more importantly, what you can do today, to protect your children.

Musical intro

The Number of Adult Onset Diabetics Keeps Increasing

One of the biggest adult health problems in contemporary America is adult onset diabetes and its precursor, pre-diabetes. It is estimated that there are about 100 million adults who suffer from one of these disorders. You heard me right, 100 million! Well, there are only 326 million Americans and 74 million of them are children. Some simple math tells me that 40% of adults in the U.S. are now pre-diabetic or full blown diabetics.  And with the diabetes diagnosis comes a whole host of horrible potential tag along diseases, like kidney failure, blindness, heart disease, and loss of limbs, Alzheimer’s dementia and more. But it may all be preventable, especially if we start the prevention in childhood. What is this magic prevention you are wondering… eating like humans have done since the beginning of time and how your grandma told you eat, that’s how.


Neither Children or Adults were Meant to Eat Continuously

Here’s the thing, I don’t believe that humans were designed to eat continuously. In fact, until the twentieth century, they never have.  For people living before the industrial revolution there were inevitable periods of fasting like when the hunting was bad, when crops failed, or when the tribe simply had to move on in a hurry.  Our ancestors certainly didn’t have access to the wealth of food that we have today and their bodies were adjusted to periodic starvation.  Their bodies and metabolism learned to maintain their health during times of fasting… or even starvation. In fact researchers today, believe that going without food at times, improves our heath. Today’s science backs up the notion that fasting is helpful.  Don’t believe that, check out the links in my show notes.

Doc Smo’s Crunchout Campaign Must Continue!

Now, let’s fast forward to today and look at where we are in terms of the way we feed children in America. 40% of calories eaten by a child are done so out of the home, 61% of calories are coming from processed foods, snacking is abundant, average sugar intake for a child is about 3X that is recommended. Add to that a marked decrease in physical activity for today’s children and no wonder we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic. And here is the take home message…it is exactly these factors that are going to drive serious health problems for today’s children in the future.

A few years ago, I made the argument that children are snacking way too much in America and that it is hurting their short term and long-term health. I still believe I was right about this point and the recent surge in adult onset diabetes along with the falling life span of Americans reinforces my argument. Somehow, we got the idea that even very limited periods of time without food should be avoided, especially with children. Wrong, wrong, wrong! My original “crunch out” campaign was meant to convince parents not to feel compelled to throw snacks at their kids every few hours. Let me quote from my original post:

“So when your little Johnny or Janie has a snack that contains carbohydrates (another word for sugar), especially a snack that has no fiber to slow down the sugar absorption, their little pancreas has to make insulin pronto to unlock the door to fat cells to remove the sugar from their blood. If they can’t, a dangerous rise in blood sugar occurs. So, what do you think is happening when a parent throws puffs, goldfish, and cookies at their child all day? Not only does this tend to make them overweight, but it keeps their insulin levels high all day…an unnatural unhealthy state. Recent studies show that children are snacking at least 3 times a day on top of 3 regular meals, taking in an extra 300-500 calories per snack. Kids are moving towards a state of constant eating, and once these patterns become habit, they will be hard to break going into adulthood. 27 percent of calories kids consume are due to snack foods, paralleling the increase to a 16 percent obesity rate in recent years. A strong relationship between obesity and increased insulin levels in the blood has been found, undoubtedly resulting from the constant intake of sugary snacks and juice pouches. “

There’s Hope

Well said if I do say so myself. But is all lost? Is the American diet and culture so toxic that your children are destined for a sicker, shorter life? Are things hopeless? Absolutely not!  In fact, I believe with the correct moves on your part, that your children can enjoy an extremely long, healthy, and happy lives and recent evidence is pointing us in the right direction. Research has shown that weight control is the key to type 2 diabetes prevention in both children and adults. No meds. No pharmacy. Just lifestyle changes that will keep your children keeping a healthy weight. You can do this by eliminating snacks, by eliminating their consumption of sugary beverages, and getting them away from screens and pushing them outdoors to play instead. You just have to decide that all these measures are vital for their short and long term health, and even though these moves may not be popular with your children, you are the ultimate arbiter of what is best for your children. Remember one of my favorite Doc Smo pearls:  “Parents create the reality in which their children live.” Take an honest look and make sure that you are creating a healthy reality for your children, today! Evidence is now showing us that a little fasting, i.e. eliminating most snacking between meals, eliminating sugary drinks and other sources of added sugar, and more physical activity is your children’s ticket to health and a life free of diabetes and its terrible consequences. Let’s give it to grandma, she was right again. Snacking is harmful to children.


Thank you for joining me today for another edition of Portable Practical Pediatrics. If you find the information you hear on this podcast useful and relevant, please consider taking a moment and writing a review where you get your podcasts. This is Dr. Paul Smolen, also known as Doc Smo, hoping you will definitely hold back, when it comes to giving your children all those snacks. Until next time.


Many thanks to Drs. Monica Miller and Charlotte Rouchouze for their editorial comments and help in producing this pedcast.