How Often Should Your Kid Eat?

Obesity risk linked to eating frequency in boys but research is weak

April 7, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

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(dailyRx News) It would seem intuitive that the more often you eat, the more you eat. However, it doesn't always work out that way – children and teenagers included.

A recent study looked at the research on links between obesity and eating frequency among kids and teens.

The researchers found that boys appeared less likely to be overweight or obese if they ate more frequently, but the effect was not seen with girls.

Not much research was available, however, so future studies could provide more information.

"Talk to your pediatrician about your child's eating habits."

The study, led by Panagiota Kaisari, MSc, of the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at Harokopio University in Athens, Greece, involved an analysis of the research on how eating frequency influences children's weight.

The researchers looked in PubMed for all observational studies published up until October 2011 that dealt with how often children or teens ate food each day and the kids' weight.

The researchers identified 11 studies that included a total of 18,849 participants, aged 2 to 19.

Overall, an analysis of all the studies' data together showed that the more often children ate throughout the day, the healthier their weight status was.

The children who ate least frequently during the day were more likely to be overweight or obese.

However, the effect was not very large, and it only appeared to show up in boys. Boys were about 24 percent less likely to be overweight or obese if they were among those who ate the most frequently during the day.

One limitation to this study is that the included research used different methods for calculating how frequently the children or teens ate.

Most of the studies used self-reported questionnaires about how many meals or eating periods the children had. Yet two studies asked the participants what they had eaten and when during a 24-hour period the day before.

In these two studies with 24-hour recall, the results did not show any relationship between weight status and how frequently the participants ate.

The authors noted that more studies that compare children in an experiment form are needed to see whether kids actually eat more or less depending on how often they eat. More research could also offer possible reasons for the differences.

Deborah Gordon, MD, a dailyRx expert who specializes in nutrition, said it makes sense to continue researching what we can learn from these studies.

"The authors wisely point to the need to further studies to tease out the significance of this observation, evaluating the impact of different variables including not only energy content but also nutrient composition or glycemic load," she said.

"Another interesting question would be to ponder the mental attitude of the youth, and to see if there is a gender difference, about the role of eating for them: Do they eat whenever they are hungry? Are the girls trying to lose weight? The boys?" Dr. Gordon said. "And to wonder what their impression is of what constitute healthy food choices: perhaps they know something we have yet to figure out."

The study was published April 8 in the journal Pediatrics. The research did not use external funding, and the authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 4, 2013
Last Updated:
April 8, 2013