Frequent Eating in Kids Tied to LessWeight Gain04/08/13
MONDAY, April 8 (HealthDay News) -- In what may seem a
surprising finding, kids in a new study who ate more often over the
course of a day were less likely to be overweight than their peers
who ate the traditional three squares.
Looking at 11 past studies, Greek researchers found that
overall, kids -- particularly boys -- who typically dined more than
three times a day weighed less than those who had three or fewer
meals. And they were 22 percent less likely to be overweight or
The findings, reported online April 8 and in the May print issue
Pediatrics, are in line with the theory that smaller meals,
spaced out over the day, may aid weight control.
The big caveat, however, is that the findings do not prove cause
and effect, said Alison Field, an associate professor of pediatrics
at Harvard Medical School and a staff scientist at Boston
Field, who was not involved in the research, said the main issue
is that all 11 studies were conducted at just one point in time. So
it's impossible to know whether the children's eating habits came
before their extra pounds. Some kids may have started eating less
often after becoming overweight.
You need studies where kids are followed over time to know which
came first, Field said. And even then, it can be hard to
disentangle whether it's the eating frequency that matters.
"People who eat frequently may choose different foods compared with people who eat less often," Field said. "Is it the eating frequency, or what you're eating?"
Registered dietitian Connie Diekman agreed that the study "does
not provide conclusive evidence." Still, other studies have
suggested that smaller, more frequent meals may help control weight
gain, according to Diekman, director of university nutrition at
Washington University in St. Louis.
"I view this study as one more piece in our understanding about meal frequency and weight, but not of itself an answer to, what do we tell consumers?" said Diekman, who did not work on the study.
For the review, Panagiota Kaisari and colleagues at Harokopio
University in Athens combined the results of 11 studies involving
nearly 19,000 kids aged 2 to 19. The studies typically compared
kids who ate more than three meals per day with those who ate less
often. Some studies counted snacks as "meals," while others did
With all the findings combined, kids who ate more often were
less likely to be overweight. When the researchers took a closer
look, though, the link seemed to hold true only for boys, and not
It's not clear why girls and boys differed, according to
Kaisari's team. And there could be other reasons that boys who eat
frequently weigh less.
Some of the studies tried to account for those factors, such as
exercise habits. But the studies varied in which factors they
considered, and that's a limitation, Kaisari's team noted.
"This all raises more questions than answers," Field said.
It is biologically plausible that eating frequency affects
metabolism and weight control, according to Field. And other
studies, she said, have suggested that skipping breakfast is
associated with weight gain -- though it's not clear why that
What is clear, according to Field, is that what your child eats,
and how many total calories he or she gets, is key. "If you're
eating frequently, but you're eating fast food, that's obviously
not good," she said.
And if your child is currently eating three big meals, this
study does not imply you should add snacks to that, Field stressed.
"What you don't want parents to do," she said, "is add calories to
what their child is already eating."
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has advice on
eating for kids.
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