Hispanic middle school children, at high risk for being overweight or obese, reduced their Body Mass Index (BMI) when they adhered to a nutrition intervention that included a snack of peanuts, compared to those children who did not.

"Obesity is the most pressing health issue facing us today," said Craig Johnston, from the University of Houston Department of Health and Human Performance (HHP).

Researchers guided 257 Latino adolescents from three Houston-area charter schools through a programme of physical activity and nutrition education.

About half the students received a snack of peanuts or peanut butter three to four times a week, while the rest received the snack fewer than once a week.

The snack was administered after school as students were boarding the school bus to go home. Peanuts were chosen because nuts are nutrient-dense snacks that promote a feeling of being full, researchers said.

Following the 12-week intervention, students spent 12 more weeks maintaining the healthy snacking habit. At the end of the period, those students who received the snack more regularly experienced a decrease in their overall BMI compared to those who did not receive the regular peanut snack.

The researchers conclude that after-school programmes and schools can replace energy dense, unhealthy snacks with peanuts to provide a healthier alternative for children.

The findings were published in the Journal of Applied Research on Children.

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