More Frequent Intake of Regular Meals and Less Frequent Snacking Are Weakly Associated with Lower Long-Term Gains in Body Mass Index and Fat Mass in Middle-Aged Men and Women

J Nutr. 2019 May 1;149(5):824-830. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxy326.


Background: Few studies have examined the relationship between eating frequency and long-term change in body weight, and the results have been inconsistent.

Objective: We examined the associations between eating frequency and 6-y changes in body mass index (BMI; in kg/m2), fat mass, fat-free mass, body fat percentage, and waist circumference.

Methods: The study consisted of Danish men (n = 1080) and women (n = 1044) aged 35-67 y with repeated measures of eating frequency, adiposity, and covariates during 11 y. Multiple linear regression was used to assess the associations between baseline eating frequency and subsequent change in BMI, fat mass, fat-free mass, fat percentage, and waist circumference, as well as the association between initial change in eating frequency and subsequent change in the same outcomes.

Results: Total baseline eating frequency was not associated with change in outcomes. However, when separately examining regular meals and snacks, each additional daily meal was associated with a subsequent 6-y change in BMI of -0.14 (95% CI: -0.27, -0.00). Similar tendencies of inverse associations were found for change in fat mass (P = 0.04), fat-free mass (P = 0.07), and waist circumference (P = 0.05). We found no association between initial change in total eating frequency and subsequent change in outcomes. However, each additional daily regular meal after 5 y was associated with a subsequent 6-y change in BMI of -0.16 (95% CI: -0.30, -0.01). Inverse associations were also seen for fat (P = 0.04) and fat-free mass (P = 0.05). In contrast, an increase in daily frequency of snacking was associated with an increase in fat mass (P = 0.04) and fat percentage (P = 0.02).

Conclusions: Our results indicate that total frequency of eating has little or no influence on adiposity among middle-aged Danish men and women. Consumption of regular meals, but not snack consumption, showed a weak inverse association with longitudinal gains in BMI.

Keywords: eating frequency; meals; obesity; snacks; weight change.

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Adiposity
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Composition*
  • Body Fluid Compartments
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Denmark
  • Diet*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meals*
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity* / etiology
  • Obesity* / metabolism
  • Obesity* / prevention & control
  • Snacks
  • Waist Circumference
  • Weight Gain