Scientists have found no significant link between eating dinner after 8pm and obesity in children, a new study shows.
Previous research has suggested that the time of day that people eat can have a significant impact on their circadian rhythms – the body’s internal clock – which would in turn impact the body’s metabolic processes. It has been thought that this can lead to an increased risk of a person becoming overweight or obese.
But researchers at King’s College London found no evidence for this in children. In a study examining the eating habits of 1,620 children, researchers found no greater risk of becoming obese or overweight if they ate dinner between 8pm and 10pm or if they had eaten it between 2pm and 8pm.
The research used data from the UK’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey Rolling Programme, which had collected annual information from food diaries kept by children and parents kept over a four day period, between 2008 and 2012. The children were split into two age groups; four to 10 years and 11 – 18 years. The children’s height and weight measurements were also collected to calculate their BMIs.
Boys aged between four and 10 who ate later were found to eat a higher proportion of protein, while girls aged between 11 and 18-years-old ate less carbohydrates as part of their daily intake when they ate dinner later. The researchers pointed out that these differences do not allow for any broad conclusions to be drawn about the children’s diets, while the study itself has limitations due to not examining potentially confounding factors such as skipping breakfast, including a child’s activity levels or how much sleep they get.
Despite this, Dr Gerda Pot, a visiting lecturer in the Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences Division and lead author of the study, said its findings are “surprising”.
“We expected to find an association between eating later and being more likely to be overweight but actually we found this was not the case. This may be due to the limited number of children consuming their evening meal after 8pm in this cohort.”
Dr Pot added that while meal-timing has been suggested as one of the many possible factors to influence trends in weight gain seen in children in the UK, “the significance of its role is under researched”.
“We are currently also using data from this survey to look at another important aspect of children's food habits, the consumption of breakfast, to investigate the impact of eating breakfast on children's daily calorie intake and overall dietary quality. And we are conducting analyses on the impact of sleep on obesity,” she said.
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