Researchers investigated whether eating frequently or the quality of food determines whether snacking helps individuals to maintain a healthy weight.
According to the World Health Organization, 13% of the world’s adult population was obese in 2016. As with most countries around the world, the prevalence of obesity in Asian countries has been increasing over the last three decades.
Since obesity is associated with higher risks for serious medical conditions including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and sleep apnea, obesity is now considered a world health epidemic. In response, researchers have been working to identify dietary and lifestyle factors that can be modified to help reduce adult obesity. One factor has been the number of meals and snacks consumed in one day.
Snacking throughout the day to reach daily caloric requirements is common. One study found that snacks contributed 17% of daily calories in Mexico, 20% in Brazil, and 21% in Norway1. However, the percentage of calories consumed in the form of snacks may be less important than whether snacking helps individuals meet daily nutrient requirements or significantly increases an individual’s overall daily caloric intake leading to weight gain and obesity.
In a recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers from Korea conducted a cross-sectional study to investigate the relationship between frequent eating, diet quality, and obesity. This study drew data from 6,951 Korean adults (aged 19-93 years) from the 4th Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
They obtained average calorie and nutrient requirements from the Dietary Reference Intakes for Koreans 2010. The researchers asked each participant what they ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner yesterday and how often they snacked each day. The investigators used plastic food, plates, bowls, glasses, and pots to help participants estimate the amount of food they ate. They also collected additional information on gender, age, education, income, exercise frequency, alcohol consumption, smoking behaviour, and perceived stress levels.
They found that more frequent eating or snacking was associated with lower obesity, waist circumference, and BMI only when the diet quality was high. In other words, snacking itself was not found to promote or inhibit healthy body weight. Rather, the food choice seemed to determine whether snacking was beneficial.
For Canadians, snacking on unprocessed, low-sugar, and high-fibre foods such as vegetables, fruit, and protein may help individuals to feel full, eat better, or eat less. On the other hand, snacking on high-sugar, high-fat, processed foods such as potato chips, muffins, cookies, or sweetened beverages may lead to eating fewer healthy foods and weight gain.
Written by Debra A. Kellen, PhD
(1) Hermann, M. (2017). Snacking: Indulgent or Essential to a Healthy Diet? Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute.
(2) Kim, S., Yang, J. H., & Park, G. H. (2018). Eating frequency is inversely associated with BMI, waist circumference and the proportion of body fat in Korean adults when diet quality is high, but not when it is low: analysis of the Fourth Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (KNHANES IV). British Journal of Nutrition, 119(8), 918-927. doi:10.1017/S0007114518000557