The behavioural signature of snacking – a visual analysis

  • D.R. Wahl
  • K. Villinger
  • G. Sproesser
  • H.T. Schupp
  • B. Renner


Background: Because of its multifaceted nature, snacking behaviour is difficult to assess comprehensively. Research often focused on retrospective measurements or aggregated values, neglecting individual variability. Therefore, a more detailed analysis is needed to understand its complexity and investigate its heterogeneously discussed associations with overweight and obesity. Methods: A smartphone-based Ecological Momentary Assessment was used to capture snacking behaviour in real-time and real-life. Analysis included data from 99 adults aged 20 to 86 years. During a study period of eight days, 400 snacking occasions were reported. To illustrate the behavioural signature of snacking, graphical visual analyses were conducted. Findings: On a daily level, visual analysis identified distinct snacking peaks. Participants mostly snacked on fruits in the morning and at work, whereas sweets were snacked on in the afternoon and at home. On an individual level, high variability in snacking was found with frequencies ranging from one to 24 snacking occasions and averages of 67.7 to 709.7 kcal per person. Interestingly, visual analysis of clusters showed that individuals bordering on overweight showed more frequent unhealthy snacking compared to normal weight or obese individuals. Discussion: Capturing snacking behaviour by ecological momentary assessment revealed large differences between individuals. A focus on inter-individual differences seems helpful for the development of individually tailored interventions and the identification of meaningful target groups.
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