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Peanuts and Peanut Butter May Hold the Key to Preventing Obesity

Childhood obesity can lead to a number of health risks in both the near and long term, including increased chance of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, gallstones and asthma. Packed with protein, fiber, healthy fats and essential nutrients, peanuts are a healthy, affordable, and great tasting snack for all ages.

Childhood Obesity Prevention

Overweight and obese Latino adolescents who ate a daily snack of peanuts or peanut butter for 6 months improved their body weight status, according to a study from Baylor College of Medicine.1 Published in the Journal of Applied Research on Children, this study is one of the first to show an improvement in weight status of Mexican Americans, one of the minority groups at highest risk for obesity, following an intensive, school-based intervention program.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of adolescents affected by obesity has more than tripled since the 1970s. A study conducted from 2015-2016 showed that nearly 1 in 5 school age children (ages 6 to 19 years) in the United States has obesity.

A 2015 USDA-funded study by investigators at Baylor College of Medicine, University of Houston, and Texas Women’s University showed how peanuts and peanut butter may hold the key to preventing obesity.

Study Result Highlights:

  • High-risk Mexican-American adolescents who consistently consumed a daily snack of peanuts or peanut butter significantly decreased their Body Mass Index (BMI) over a six-month period compared to adolescents not on the snacking intervention.
  • Swapping protein-rich peanuts or peanut butter for high-carbohydrate snacks 3 to 4 times a week resulted in healthier weights and improved overall health in the children studied.

These results indicate that peanuts are an effective way to reduce obesity in childhood, which affects 17% of children in the United States.2 Since overweight children are more likely to be overweight and develop life-threatening, chronic diseases as adults,3, 4 these findings that peanuts may help children achieve a healthy weight are significant.

More About the Study:

Children in the United States consume between two and three snacks each day on average, an amount providing more than a quarter of their daily energy needs. Adolescents are susceptible to unhealthy, irregular eating and snacking patterns that contribute to excess weight gain. Hispanic youths in particular are at risk for acquiring health conditions associated with obesity.

In this study, overweight or obese children, primarily of Mexican-American descent, completed a daily 12-week intensive behavioral program of nutrition education, physical activity, and a peanut-snacking intervention. One group of students was provided with peanuts (1 ounce) and peanut butter (3/4-ounce) snacks every day of the 12-week intervention, and continued to be offered and encouraged to consume the peanut snacks daily over a period of six months. The control group of children were not given peanuts and ate less than one ounce of peanuts a week.

At the end of six months, the group receiving the peanut snacking intervention had greater reductions in BMI than the group that did not receive the intervention.

Ways to Prevent Obesity

Simple Snacking Swaps with Peanuts

Snacks make up a significant portion of children’s daily energy intake. Ninety-six percent of children aged 2-19 years consume at least one snack daily, and over half of children consume three or more snacks per day.5 On average, snacks account for 26% of daily energy consumption.6 Because they constitute such a large percentage of daily energy intake, snacks are an excellent way to consume essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. Snacks that are high in protein induce satiety, or the feeling of fullness, and can help you to eat less throughout the day.7, 8 Making smart snack choices can also stave off childhood obesity.

A study published in the journal Nutrition Research showed that children who ate peanuts or peanut butter at least once per week were less likely to be overweight, had higher vitamin and mineral intakes, and had lower blood cholesterol levels than children who did not eat peanuts.9 The study results also support peanuts and peanut butter as “smart snacks” for weight management and hunger maintenance.Try swapping heart-healthy, hunger-busting peanuts and peanut butter for your typical afternoon snack, and feel the difference!

Eat More Vegetables, Reduce Obesity

It is known that eating vegetables promotes a healthy weight, and protects against cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. However, most children do not consume the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.10

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, peanut butter is an excellent way to increase the amount and types of vegetables that children eat.11

In this study, two classrooms of 6th grade children were offered bags of carrots, celery, and broccoli, and encouraged to eat as many vegetables as they wanted. Children in one of the classrooms were given peanut butter to accompany their vegetables, while children in the other classroom were not given any accompaniments. Vegetables were offered during class once a week, for four months.

After four months, researchers measured the amount of vegetables the children were consuming. They found that children who had been served peanut butter with their vegetables increased their vegetable intake by 31%. Conversely, children who were served vegetables only decreased their intake by 21%. Similar patterns were observed in children who reported being resistant to eat or try vegetables.

Peanuts are what researchers call a “preferred flavor” which means that people naturally like it- including children who are picky eaters. Even adults like the flavor of peanuts; researchers at Purdue University found that consuming peanuts every day for 12 weeks did not diminish likeability in adult study participants.12

Are you getting the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables each day? If not, reach for that jar of peanut butter in your pantry. It may just be the kick you need to eat those fruits and vegetables.

By replacing high-carbohydrate, energy-dense snacks in the children’s backpacks with protein and fiber-packed, nutrient-dense peanuts and peanut butter, the study results support peanuts and peanut butter as “smart snacks” for weight management and hunger maintenance.

Last reviewed: February 2022


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