British Journal of Nutrition

Full Papers

Dietary Surveys and Nutritional Epidemiology

Snacking patterns among adolescents: a comparison of type, frequency and portion size between Britain in 1997 and Northern Ireland in 2005

Maeve A. Kerra1, Kirsten L. Renniea1, Tracy A. McCaffreya1, Julie M. W. Wallacea1, Mary P. Hannon-Fletchera1 and M. Barbara E. Livingstonea1 c1

a1 Northern Ireland Centre for Food and Health (NICHE), University of Ulster, Coleraine BT52 1SA, UK


Despite the potential link between snack food intake and obesity and the reportedly high prevalence of snacking among adolescents, adolescent snack food patterns (types of foods consumed, frequency and portion size) have not been extensively examined. This study examines these issues using data on the snacking patterns of adolescents aged 13–16 years who took part in the 1997 National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) and that from a Northern Irish (NI) cohort of adolescents collected 8 years later, in 2005. Overall energy intake was significantly higher in the NI adolescents in 2005 compared with the NDNS adolescents in 1997 (P < 0·01). Consequently, energy intake from snacks was significantly higher in the NI cohort (P < 0·01) and a trend for a higher % energy intake from snacks compared with the NDNS group was observed (median 32·5 % v. 29·8 %, respectively). Sugar-sweetened carbonated and soft drinks remained the most popular choice of snack over this 8-year period; however, both the portion size consumed and frequency of consumption were significantly higher among the adolescents in 2005 compared with those in 1997 (P = 0·022 and P = 0·014, respectively). Despite the lower popularity, and correspondingly lower frequency of milks and beverages, the portion size of both food groups was significantly higher among the adolescents in 2005 compared with those in 1997 (P < 0·001 and P = 0·007, respectively). These findings may provide scope for policy interventions to place particular emphasis on reducing typical portion sizes consumed of popular snack choices, in particular high-energy carbonated and soft drinks, among UK adolescents.

(Received December 07 2007)

(Revised April 03 2008)

(Accepted April 10 2008)

(Online publication June 05 2008)


c1 Corresponding author: Professor M. B. E. Livingstone, fax +44 28 703 23023, email


Abbreviations: DLW, doubly labelled water; EER, estimated energy requirement; EI, energy intake; IQR, interquartile range; NDNS, National Diet and Nutrition Survey; NI, Northern Ireland; TEE, total energy expenditure