Given a snack of peanuts or peanut butter, Mexican American middle school children at high risk of being overweight or obese experienced a drop in their Body Mass Index (BMI), researchers have found. The snacks were provided as part of a nutrition intervention carried out in charter schools in the Houston area.

Researchers from the Texas Women's University, Baylor College of Medicine and the Health and Human Performance Department at the University of Houston conducted a 12-week study involving 257 adolescents, all of whom are part of the larger longitudinal study about a school-based intervention program to address obesity.

According to Craig Johnston, one of the authors of the study, fighting obesity requires creative solutions that help people manage their hunger, appetite and weight by providing food choices that are socially acceptable.

"Schools are doing a great job of teaching kids, getting them workforce ready and a whole bunch of other things. We've just got to make sure that our kids are going to live long, happy lives with that kind of education," he said.

Snacking is more prevalent in adolescents so school age is a great time to introduce healthy eating habits. This will provide school children with the foundations they need to not only stay healthy as children but eventually as adults as well.

A lot of children are skipping their meals in school for various reasons so they make up for that by snacking when they get home. Unfortunately, getting home around 4 p.m. means their parents are not usually around to supervise what they are eating.

For the study, about half of the participants were given a snack of either peanuts or peanut butter three or four times in a week, while the rest got the same snack less than once a week. The children got their snacks after school as they were boarding school buses to go home.

Aside from nutrition education, the participants were also guided through a physical activity program.

After the initial 12-week intervention period, another 12 weeks were spent by the participants to maintain the snacking habit they were following.

When the researchers took BMI measurements after the study period, they saw that the participants who got the peanut or peanut butter snacks showed a decrease in overall BMI. They concluded that peanuts or peanut butter are healthy alternatives that schools and after-school programs can consider to help fight obesity in children.

The study, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, was published in the Journal of Applied Research on Children.

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