Snack time is a much-anticipated part of the day for children of all ages. But new research suggests that kids snacking in big groups could be at risk for obesity.
Researchers from the University of Michigan looked at the eating behavior of 54 preschoolers between the ages of 2 and 6.
At snack time, the researchers monitored the amount of food each child ate while they were in groups of either three or nine.
According to the study, the more children there are in a group, the more likely they are to overeat.
Those in the larger group consumed nearly 30 percent more than those in smaller group, and they actually ate at a faster pace.
"Whenever you're doing some behavior with other people, you tend to do that thing more robustly," says study author Dr. Julie Lumeng, at the University of Michigan's Center for Human Growth and Development.
Lumeng points out that with children, "simply eating with other people will get them to eat more."
Because this is the first such study in children, experts are quick to point out the importance of encouraging healthy habits in kids as early as possible.
"If you know kids overeat in large groups, it seems perfect to use this information to keep snack groups small or use small tables," says Dr. Jana Klauer, a weight and nutrition expert in New York.
Smaller groups would allow for a calmer, more relaxed environment -- a perfect opportunity to teach children about food, manners and how to recognize when they feel full.
"This would have an effect on kids' eating," adds Klauer. "They would slow down, eat less and decrease obesity rates."
It's not just important to teach kids about food but also about activity.
"You don't want to stop kids from hanging out with friends but focus on what they do with friends," says Keith Thomas Ayoob, assistant professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
These days, more kids seem to get together for sedentary activities like watching TV or playing video games. "These activities are all conducive to mindless eating," says Ayoob. He says kids need to get at least an hour of physical activity every day.
"You should ask kids, 'Have you had your hour today?'"