“The cure for teen obesity? Eating five times a day,” is the advice on the Mail Online website. It reports on a study that looked at how frequently a large number of teenagers ate their daily meals, and whether this might affect the impact of genetic risk factors for being obese. A number of genetic variants have been identified as being associated with an increased risk of an individual becoming obese.
The researchers found that in adolescents who ate five meals a day (three standard meals plus two snacks), genetic risk factors seemed to have less of an effect on body mass index (BMI).
However, the main limitation of this study is that meal frequency was assessed at the same time as BMI, so researchers can’t say for certain whether meal frequency was affecting BMI or vice versa. They also didn’t have information about what the participants ate, so couldn’t see how the number of calories consumed compared between those eating five meals a day and those who did not.
Although this study by itself is not conclusive, there is a growing interest in how our eating patterns, and not just what we eat, is linked to our risk of being overweight. It is hoped that a better understanding of these links will help people know how best to maintain a healthy weight.
Where did the story come from?
The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Eastern Finland and other research centres in Finland, the UK and France. It was funded by the Academy of Finland and the Nordic Centre of Excellence on SYSDIET (systems biology in controlled dietary interventions and cohort studies).
The study was published in the peer-reviewed open access journal PLoS One, which can be read online or downloaded for free.
The Mail Online’s headline uses the word “cure”, a word that needs to be used with more caution. It is unlikely that regular mealtimes on their own are a “cure” for obesity, and this is not what the study itself suggests.
The Mail also refers to the genetic risk factor as “eight gene mutations that cause obesity”, which is a bit of an oversimplification. The genetic variants in question are common among the population and don’t “cause” obesity: they are in fact associated with an increased chance of a person being overweight.
Both genetic and environmental factors (diet and physical activity) play a role in a person’s weight. Carrying these genetic variants may mean a person is more likely to gain weight, but they don’t guarantee that they will be overweight or obese, or make it impossible to lose weight.
The Mail also reports on other findings from this ongoing study, such as the impact of maternal obesity in pregnancy on child obesity. These findings were not part of the study in the PLoS publication being covered. The accuracy of the reporting of these claims has not been reported here.
What kind of research was this?
This was cross-sectional analysis that looked at the relationship between meal frequency and BMI in adolescents with and without genetic risk factors for obesity.
The causes of obesity are complex, and include genetic and environmental factors. Genome wide analyses have identified many common genetic variants linked to an increased risk of obesity. These genetic variants do not guarantee that a person will be overweight; instead, people who carry them have a higher risk of being overweight. Some studies have suggested that patterns of eating – such as meal frequency – also have an effect.
The researchers found in a previous study that 16-year-olds who ate five meals a day were less likely to be overweight or obese. In the current study, they wanted to see if meal frequency might “modify” the effect of genetic risk factors in adolescents. That is, whether adolescents genetically predisposed to be overweight might be less likely to have a higher BMI if they ate five meals a day rather than fewer meals.
Source: Read More at NHS