Really? 5 Daily Meals Prevent Obesity

Headlines declaring that five daily meals will prevent obesity win ConscienHealth’s Worst Headline in Obesity Award (WHOA) this week.

Prompting these headlines was a study by Anne Jääskeläinen and colleagues that examined the interaction among meal frequency, genetic variations associated with obesity, and BMI in a sample of 4,624 adolescents. They found that even with a higher genetic risk for obesity, adolescents who ate three meals and two snacks daily were likely to have lower BMIs than those who skipped meals.

If you actually read the study, you can find the critical disclaimer:

The cross-sectional study design does not permit conclusions regarding causality.

This fine print did not deter the authors from proclaiming that:

In the light of current knowledge, promoting a regular eating pattern, i.e., five meals including breakfast, could be a potent obesity prevention strategy and bring forth other important health benefits.

With a little help from the study’s authors, health reporters felt free to skip the fine print and gloss over the focus on regular eating patterns in favor of headlines that provide a real jolt:

  • The Cure for Teen Obesity? Eating FIVE Times a Day
  • Five Meals a Day Prevents Youth Obesity
  • The Simplest Way to Prevent Obesity: Five Meals a Day


Click here to read more in the Daily Mail and click here to read the study in PLOS ONE.

WHOA, photograph © Patrick Bell / flickr

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