Objective: To investigate the relationships between eating frequency (EF) and body weight status and to determine whether these relationships can be explained in terms of differences in physical activity levels, macronutrient intakes or energy compensation.
Design: Cross-sectional design; free-living subjects, 48 men and 47 women (aged 20-55 y, body mass index (BMI) 18-30), recruited in a workplace setting.
Measurements: Height and weight; skinfold thickness (four sites); EF, energy and macronutrient intakes (food diary, unweighed, recorded for seven consecutive days); physical activity (7 d activity diary and heart rate monitoring over 48 h period).
Results: In men there was a significant negative correlation between EF and body weight, and an inverse relationship with body mass index (BMI). EF was positively correlated with % energy from carbohydrate, although not with total energy intake. In women, there was no relationship between EF and body weight status; however, there were significant positive correlations between EF and total energy intake, and between EF and intakes of total carbohydrate and sugars. For both men and women, there were associations between EF and physical activity levels, approaching statistical significance.
Conclusions: In men, the association between increased EF and lower body weight status may have been influenced by increased physical activity levels. As energy intake did not increase with EF, men appear to have compensated by reducing the mean energy consumed per eating episode. Energy compensation did not take place in women, with women who ate most frequently having the highest energy intakes, although this did not lead to higher BMIs. Physical activity, through participation in active leisure pursuits, may have been an important factor in weight control in women. The % contribution of carbohydrate to total energy was positively correlated with EF in both men and women, and further analysis showed that snack foods provided a higher proportion of carbohydrate than did foods eaten as meals. These results indicate that a high EF is likely to lead to a high carbohydrate diet, which may be favourable for weight control. Our findings suggest that in this population, a high EF was associated with leanness in men, and there was no link between EF and body weight status in women.