Five regular meals a day reduces adolescents’ obesity risk

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 14th October 2013

A regular eating pattern may protect adolescents from obesity, according to a Finnish population-based study with more than 4,000 participants.

The study found that when eating five meals – breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks – a day, even those with a genetic predisposition to obesity had no higher Body Mass Index (BMI) than their controls.

The results of the study were presented as part of a doctoral thesis at the University of Eastern Finland, and published in various articles in the International Journal of Obesity, the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disesase, and PLOS One.

Study followed participants from pregnancy to 16

The collection of the data on the study population began prenatally, and the participants were followed up until the age of 16. Researchers said the aim was to identify early-life risk factors associated with obesity, to investigate the association between meal frequencies, obesity and metabolic syndrome, and to examine whether meal frequency could modulate the effect of common genetic variants linked to obesity.

The genetic data comprised eight or near eight single nucleotide polymorphisms (genetic variations) at or near eight obesity-susceptibility loci (gene positions on a chromosome).

According to the results, a regular five-meal pattern was associated with a reduced risk of overweight and obesity in both sexes and with a reduced risk of abdominal obesity in boys. Moreover, the regular five-meal pattern attenuated the BMI-increasing effect of the common genetic variants. Conversely, skipping breakfast was associated with great BMI and waist circumference.

Obese parents increase risk in children

The study found that maternal weight gain of more than seven kilograms during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy increased the risk of obesity in the offspring. However, maternal obesity before pregnancy was a more important risk factor than weight gain during pregnancy.

Paternal obesity before pregnancy was nearly as important as maternal pre-pregnancy weight as a risk factor for the offspring obesity during adolescence. The risk of obesity was significant in adolescents whose parents both had a BMI of 25 or over throughout the 16-year follow-up period.

“These findings emphasise the importance of taking an early whole-family approach to childhood obesity prevention,” said Anne Jaaskelainen, MHSc, first author of the study. “Furthermore, it is important to be aware that the effects of predisposing genotypes can be modified by lifestyle habits such as regular meal frequency,” she said.

The study population was derived from the prospective, population-based Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986.

Five regular meals a day reduces adolescents' risk of obesity