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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center On Aging

Title: Eating frequency and energy regulation in free-living adults consuming self-selected diets

item Mccrory, Megan
item Howrath, Nancy
item Roberts, Susan
item Huang, Terrk

Submitted to: Journal of Nutrition
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/1/2010
Publication Date: 1/1/2011
Citation: Mccrory, M.A., Howrath, N.C., Roberts, S.B., Huang, T.T. 2011. Eating frequency and energy regulation in free-living adults consuming self-selected diets. Journal of Nutrition. 141:1-6.

Interpretive Summary: It is not well-understood whether eating frequency is an important contributor to weight control. The scientific studies on this issue are reviewed in this paper, which is part of a larger set of manuscripts generated from the Experimental Biology (EB) 2009 Symposium, “Eating Patterns and Energy Balance.” Only the studies in which adults are living their usual lives and eating their normal diets are considered. Two types of study designs were considered: those conducted at a single time point (“cross-sectional study”) and those conducted over time in which people are assigned to a group that eats more often or less often during the day (“intervention study”). Most of the cross-sectional studies on eating frequency and body show that people who eat more often are leaner than those who eat less often during the day (and are fatter). However, people who weigh more tend to underreport their food intake, with the result that fatter people appear to be eating less frequently than is truly the case. When this underreporting is taken into account in the single time point studies on eating frequency and body weight, we can see that leaner people eat less often and fatter people eat more often during a day. The few intervention studies on eating frequency which have been done show either no resulting effect of eating frequency on body weight change or a minor effect such that people who are assigned to eat more often gain a small amount of weight. However, the intervention studies were conducted for a short time period and with a very small number of people. Intervention studies conducted over a longer time period and with more people are needed before conclusions can be drawn about how important eating frequency is related to weight control.

Technical Abstract: The relative importance of eating frequency to weight control is poorly understood. This review examines the evidence to date on the role of eating frequency in weight control in free-living adults. The majority of cross-sectional studies in free-living adults show an inverse relationship between eating frequency and adiposity; however, this is likely an artifact produced by the underreporting of eating frequency concurrent with underreporting of energy intake. When implausible energy intake reporting (which is mostly underreporting) is taken into account, the association between eating frequency and adiposity becomes positive. In studies in which eating frequency is prescribed and food intake is mostly self-selected, there is either no effect or a minor positive effect of eating frequency on energy intake. Most of those studies have been short-term and lack the necessary dietary biomarkers to validate reported energy intakes and eating frequencies. In conclusion, there is some suggestion from cross-sectional studies in which energy intake underreporting is taken into account and from experimental studies to date that greater eating frequency may promote positive energy balance. However, experimental studies of longer-term duration which include objective dietary biomarkers are necessary before firm conclusions about the relative importance of eating frequency in weight control can be made.

Last Modified: 10/17/2017
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