The impact of meal frequency, size & timing on weight


This week’s paper received media coverage. The UK Daily Mail reported the study as “Counting calories IS king when it comes to losing weight – NOT fasting, study finds” (Ref 1). Bloomberg reported it as “Eating Less Beats Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss, Study Says” (Ref 2). The journal publication site reported “So far, Altmetric has seen 295 news stories from 203 outlets” (Ref 3). That amount of coverage tells us that the article was published with a press release and indeed this one was (Ref 4).

The paper was called “Association of Eating and Sleeping Intervals With Weight Change Over Time: The Daily24 Cohort” and it was by Zhao et al (Ref 5). The headlines made me think that a trial had been conducted, where participants had been randomised to either counting calories/eating less or intermittent fasting. That was not what happened.

The study

The study aimed to evaluate the association between meal intervals and weight trajectory among US adults from three healthcare systems in Maryland and Pennsylvania. This was a population study, therefore and it was an unusual one. Participants were adults aged 18 or over, with electronic health records in 1 of the 3 healthcare systems being used. They had at least one height and one weight measurement recorded within two years before enrollment, which took place between 1st February and 31st July 2019. People meeting these criteria were invited to participate in the study. Interested subjects completed a consent form and a baseline questionnaire. After this process, the study ended up with 547 participants.

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