Eating larger portions leads to extra weight gain in young children
Research presented at the European Obesity Summit in Gothenburg has shown that although overweight children consume larger meals they do not eat more frequently than children of a healthy weight.
Although it has been heavily debated whether extra weight gain is due to eating larger meals and/or eating too often, the subject has so far been largely under-researched in young children.
This new study from the UK Diet and Nutrition Survey of Infants and Young Children (DNSIYC) looked at the eating habits of 2,564 very young children aged 4-18 months old as reported by parents to study an association between meal size and meal frequency and the child’s weight.
The data showed that overweight children ate larger meals than the healthy weight children, consuming 141 calories versus 130 calories at each meal time, but they did not eat more frequently than healthy weight children throughout the course of the day.
The researchers also found that for every extra 24 calories that the children consumed during each meal there was a 9 per cent increased risk of overweight/obesity.
The overweight children also appeared to consume these extra calories by eating larger portions of the same types of foods — 160g versus 146g — as there was no difference in the energy density of the meals (kJ/gram) consumed between overweight and healthy weight children.
The results led the authors to conclude that it was eating larger portions rather than eating more frequently which led to an increased risk of the children becoming overweight early in life, pointing out that, “Although the difference in average meal size between the overweight and healthy weight children seems small (11 calories, perhaps an extra spoonful of baked beans with a meal) children are eating on average 5 times per day so the difference over the course of a week is considerable.
An excess of 11 calories per meal equates to an extra 56 calories per day, an extra 393 calories per week, and an extra 1703 calories per month.”
“This small extra intake each meal means that overweight children are consuming approximately 2 extra days’ worth of energy each month. Given that these children are less than two years of age, over time the effects could be substantial.”
The team now believe that the results of the study suggest that there is a need for better guidance on portion sizes for young children, however they did also acknowledge that further studies are needed in this area.