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Despite its reputation for contributing to the expansion of waistlines, snacking, for right or wrong, is entrenched in the daily routine of American lives and has been growing along with those waists, according to a recent report by market researchers NPD Group.
After experiencing a period of decline between 1996 and 2002, consumption of snacks has grown steadily and is forecasted to increase by 14 percent by 2017, according to the new "Snacking in America 2008" report from NPD.
"A generation ago most Americans believed they should 'avoid snacking entirely,' but today snacking is more acceptable and is clearly the fourth meal of the day," said Harry Balzer, NPD Group's v.p. "Twenty-one percent of all meals are snacks."
Although snacking behavior is common among people of all ages, NPD found that consumption of snack-oriented convenience foods, which generally are eaten between meals as "snacks," but can be consumed along with meals or as a meal replacement, is growing among kids ages 6 to 12, but declining among adults 18-34 (showing greatest declines) and adults 55+. Snacking among younger children ages 2-5 is also declining. By 2017, NPD projected kids under 9 and adults ages 30-39 and 50-59 will account for the largest number of snack occasions.
"There is an aging curve that shows between meal eating peaking at a very young age; although children in general remain the heaviest snackers," said Arnie Schwartz, who heads up the NPD's food and beverage business unit. "On the other end of the age spectrum, between-meal-eating shows growth after the age of around 60. Because this is where the population is heading, we would expect this behavior to just outpace population growth."