The cure for teen obesity? Eating FIVE times a day: Small, regular meals prevent weight gain – even in those with ‘genetic fatness’
- Belly fat in boys was notably less when they ate five small meals a day
- Teenagers who skipped breakfast were more likely to be overweight
- Regular eating reduces effect of eight gene mutations that cause obesity
- 3 in 10 children in England aged 2-15 are overweight and a fifth are obese
Eating five meals a day – breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks – protects children against obesity, according to new research.
A study of more than 4,000 Finnish youngsters found those who skipped breakfast were more likely to be overweight.
The regular eating pattern also reduced the BMI (body mass index) increasing effect of eight gene mutations that cause obesity.
It means when eating five meals a day even those with a genetic predisposition to obesity were no heavier than their classroom peers.
Doctors claim the UK has the highest rate of child obesity in Western Europe.
Obesity has been linked with serious illnesses during childhood and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, asthma and breathing difficulties during sleep.
National surveys in England suggest about three in ten children aged between two and 15 are overweight, while up to a fifth are obese.
The latest study followed participants from before birth up until the age of 16 and aimed to identify early life risk factors for obesity.
It also investigated any association between the condition and meal frequency.
Both boys and girls who stuck to a regular five meal a day regime were at less risk of being overweight and obese.
The researchers also noted a particular reduction in excessive belly fat, or abdominal obesity, in boys which is most likely to trigger metabolic syndrome, a range of conditions that lead to diabetes and heart disease.
Moreover, the eating pattern zapped the effect of the common fat causing genetic variants whereas missing breakfast was associated with greater BMI and waist circumference.
The study also found mothers who gained more than seven kilograms (15.4lb) during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy increased the risk of obesity in the offspring.
But maternal obesity before pregnancy was a greater risk factor than this, with the father being obese almost as important.
The risk of obesity was strikingly high in adolescents whose parents were both overweight with a BMI of 25 or more throughout the 16 year follow up period.
Anne Jaaskelainen, of the University of Eastern Finland, said: ‘These findings emphasise the importance of taking an early whole family approach to childhood obesity prevention.
‘Furthermore, it is important to be aware the effects of predisposing genotypes can be modified by lifestyle habits such as regular meal frequency.’
The findings were published in International Journal of Obesity, International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, and PLOS One.