Regular meals keep teenagers slimmer, say Spanish researchers
EU research has shown that eating regular meals helps teenagers stay slimmer, regardless of their exercise regime, according to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Scientists working at the Institute of Food Science and Technology and Nutrition (ICTAN), part of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), have found that adolescents who have more than four meals a day are thinner than their peers. More than 25 % of Spanish teenagers are overweight or obese, and so finding ways to help them stay slim is imperative for their well-being and for the country's health budget.
Obesity is a chronic disease that is associated with the early development of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer. Moreover, as the researchers highlighted, special attention should be given to childhood obesity: many studies have shown that obese children are more likely to become obese adults. Regular physical activity seems to offer protection against a wide variety of these chronic disease-related risk factors during childhood and adolescence, and a combination of adequate physical activity together with healthy dietary habits can help prevent obesity and other nutrition-related alterations common in adolescence, such as poor bone mineralisation.
In this study, the researchers assessed the adolescents' eating behaviour using a questionnaire. Participants were asked whether they usually consumed commercially ready-to-eat foods, about their eating speed and about the frequency and distribution of their meals. Their consumption of soft drinks was also assessed using a 24-hour diet recall, and the scientists used a nutrient database software to define the soft drinks: they were categorised as caloric soft drinks, colas or isotonic drinks. Participation in leisure-time physical activity was likewise measured.
The scientists then obtained data on fat levels by calculating the sum of 6 skin folds and the waist circumference values of 1 978 adolescents (of which 1 017 were girls) aged between 13 and 18 years, from five Spanish cities, namely Granada, Madrid, Murcia, Santander and Zaragoza.
The resulting numbers indicated that body fat is lower when adolescents follow certain healthy habits. These include eating mid-morning snacks, afternoon snacks, and/or more than four meals a day, and not eating too fast - youngsters who ate fairly quickly showed higher levels of body fat. On the other hand, eating regular meals was found to occur independently of the young people's exercise habits.
The young men were taller, weighed more, had a larger waist circumference, and ate faster during meals than the girls. However, their accumulated fat rate was lower. Furthermore, the authors observed that eating breakfast on a daily basis was especially beneficial for young men who do not do any exercise, since those who skipped this meal showed higher body fat values. Only 18.5 % of the boys did not engage in some form of sport, compared to 48.5 % of the girls.
For both girls and boys, body fat levels were in the same range if they ate breakfast every day. For boys, the waist circumference median hovered slightly above 75 centimetres if they ate breakfast, regardless of exercise frequency; however, non-exercising males who skipped breakfast in the morning had a waist circumference mean of slightly less than 85 centimetres.
'We emphasise the need to take into account the interactions between different dietary habits and physical patterns, when the nutritional status is evaluated, and to elucidate and prevent the development of obesity in childhood and adolescence,' concluded the researchers.
Data Source Provider: Journal of Adolescent Health
Document Reference: Gómez Martínez, S., et al., 2012, 'Eating habits and total and abdominal fat in Spanish adolescents: influence of physical activity', Journal of Adolescent Health, 50: 403-409. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2011.08.016
Subject Index: Medicine, Health