The Third Factor: Eating Frequency

Is it the kind of food you eat that makes you fat or how much you eat? The third factor, often ignored, is how often. This research provides some insight into the third factor of eating.

Research Paper Title

Eating Frequency Is Positively Associated with Overweight and Central Obesity in US Adults.


Evidence of the association between eating frequency (EF) and adiposity is inconsistent.


With the use of data from the NHANES 2003–2012, this cross-sectional study examined the associations between EF, meal frequency (MF), and snack frequency (SF) and overweight/obesity and central obesity.


  • Dietary intake was assessed with the use of two 24-h dietary recalls in 18,696 US adults ≥20 y of age.
  • All eating occasions providing ≥50 kcal of energy were divided into meals or snacks on the basis of contribution to energy intake (≥15% or <15%), self-report, and time (0600–1000, 1200–1500, 1800–2100, or other).
  • Multivariable logistic regression was used to compute ORs and 95% CIs.


  • When analyzed without adjustment for the ratio of energy intake to estimated energy requirement (EI:EER), all measures of EF, MF, and SF showed inverse or null associations.
  • After adjustment for EI:EER, however, EF was positively associated with overweight/obesity (body mass index ≥25 kg/m2) and central obesity (waist circumference ≥102 cm in men and ≥88 cm in women).
  • Compared with the lowest category (≤3 times/d), the OR (95% CI) for overweight/obesity in the highest category (≥5 times/d) was 1.54 (1.23, 1.93) in men (P-trend = 0.003) and 1.45 (1.17, 1.81) in women (P-trend = 0.001).
  • The corresponding value for central obesity was 1.42 (1.15, 1.75) in men (P-trend = 0.002) and 1.29 (1.05, 1.59) in women (P-trend = 0.03).
  • The self-report–based MF and time-based MF were positively associated with overweight/obesity, central obesity, or both, although MF based on energy contribution showed no associations.
  • There were positive associations for all SF measures in men and for the energy-contribution–based SF in women.


This cross-sectional study suggests that higher EF, MF, and SF are associated with increased likelihood of overweight/obesity and central obesity in US adults. Prospective studies are needed to confirm the associations observed here.


Murakami, K. & Livingstone, M.B.E. (2015) Eating Frequency Is Positively Associated with Overweight and Central Obesity in US Adults. The Journal of Nutrition.  145(12), pp.2715-2724. First published October 14, 2015, doi: 10.3945/​jn.115.219808.


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