Eating frequency and weight and body composition: a systematic review of observational studies

Public Health Nutr. 2017 Aug;20(12):2079-2095. doi: 10.1017/S1368980017000994. Epub 2017 Jun 5.


Objective: The present review aimed to examine the association of eating frequency with body weight or body composition in adults of both sexes.

Design: PubMed, EMBASE and Scopus databases were searched. PRISMA and MOOSE protocols were followed. Observational studies published up to August 2016 were included. The methodological quality of the studies was assessed with the Downs and Black checklist.

Setting: A systematic review of the literature.

Subjects: Adults (n 136 052); the majority of studies were developed in the USA and Europe.

Results: Thirty-one articles were included in the review: two prospective and twenty-nine cross-sectional studies. Thirteen per cent of the studies received quality scores above 80 %. The assessment of eating frequency and body composition or body weight varied widely across the studies. Potential confounders were included in 73 % of the studies. Fourteen studies reported an inverse association between eating frequency and body weight or body composition, and seven studies found a positive association. The majority of studies applied multiple analyses adjusted for potential confounders, such as sex, age, education, income, smoking, physical activity and alcohol intake. Six studies took into account under-reporting of eating frequency and/or energy intake in the analysis, and one investigated the mediation effect of energy intake.

Conclusions: There is not sufficient evidence confirming the association between eating frequency and body weight or body composition when misreporting bias is taken into account. However, in men, a potential protective effect of high eating frequency was observed on BMI and visceral obesity.

Keywords: Body composition; Body weight; Eating frequency; Meal pattern; Systematic literature review Obesity.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Composition*
  • Body Weight*
  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Obesity
  • Observational Studies as Topic