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Health & Parenting

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Frequent Eating in Kids Tied to Less Weight Gain

But this won't hold true with unhealthy foods, expert warns

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Amy Norton

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, April 8 (HealthDay News) -- In what may seem a surprising finding, kids in a new study who ate more often over the course of a day were less likely to be overweight than their peers who ate the traditional three squares.

Looking at 11 past studies, Greek researchers found that overall, kids -- particularly boys -- who typically dined more than three times a day weighed less than those who had three or fewer meals. And they were 22 percent less likely to be overweight or obese.

The findings, reported online April 8 and in the May print issue of Pediatrics, are in line with the theory that smaller meals, spaced out over the day, may aid weight control.

The big caveat, however, is that the findings do not prove cause and effect, said Alison Field, an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a staff scientist at Boston Children's Hospital.

Field, who was not involved in the research, said the main issue is that all 11 studies were conducted at just one point in time. So it's impossible to know whether the children's eating habits came before their extra pounds. Some kids may have started eating less often after becoming overweight.

You need studies where kids are followed over time to know which came first, Field said. And even then, it can be hard to disentangle whether it's the eating frequency that matters.

"People who eat frequently may choose different foods compared with people who eat less often," Field said. "Is it the eating frequency, or what you're eating?"

Registered dietitian Connie Diekman agreed that the study "does not provide conclusive evidence." Still, other studies have suggested that smaller, more frequent meals may help control weight gain, according to Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis.

"I view this study as one more piece in our understanding about meal frequency and weight, but not of itself an answer to, what do we tell consumers?" said Diekman, who did not work on the study.

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