More frequent meals and snacks among primary school children may be associated with a lower risk of overweight and obesity, according to new research published in Public Health Nutrition.
Lower socioeconomic status and certain demographics have been associated with increased risk of obesity, but individual behaviours clearly are important too, the Bordeaux researchers wrote.
They examined food and activity habits among more than 4,000 French primary school children aged 5-7 in the Aquitaine region, and 3,600 children aged 7-11.
Among the younger age group, 9.5% were either overweight or obese. They found the highest prevalence of overweight among girls and those in lower socioeconomic groups, as well as those who skipped breakfast, rarely ate in the school canteen, or those who rarely had a light afternoon snack – a common practice in France.
In the 7-11 age group, 15.6% were overweight or obese. Absence of a morning snack and skipping breakfast were associated with the highest prevalence of overweight, as well as the same social and demographic factors as in the younger group.
“These data reinforce previous findings but also show original associations, especially regarding the protective role of eating at the canteen and of small snacks between main meals,” the researchers wrote.
The study also highlighted the association between breakfast and lower weight, although the authors acknowledged that a potential limitation of the study was that causality could not be inferred from the results.
They added that some may find the association between morning snacks and lower risk of overweight surprising considering that previous research had found morning snacks were often fatty or sugary. However, a health programme in the region had taken action to improve the nutritional composition of morning snacks, including promoting fruit intake. They suggested that this could be partly responsible for the association.
“Taken altogether, our results on dietary habits suggest that a high meal frequency is associated with a lower risk of overweight or obesity,” the researchers wrote.
Source: Public Health Nutrition
“Prevalence and factors associated with overweight and obesity in French primary-school children”
Authors: Hélène Thibault, Caroline Carriere, Coralie Langevin Edouard Kossi Déti, Pascale Barberger-Gateau and Sylvie Maurice