Meal Frequency and Timing Are Associated with Changes in Body Mass Index

Sabah Bari ’24

Figure 1: An assortment of food. Food is one of the determining factors of how we increase and decrease our BMI.

Everyone has been accustomed to the three meals of the day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. But what if the frequency and timing of those meals affect your overall health? Scientists have come up with a scale called the Body Mass Index which pertains to an individual’s age, height and weight to indicate if they are considered to be normal, underweight, overweight or obese. As we all know, food is a big factor in how we gain or lose weight, on the basis of how much we do or don’t eat. Therefore, tracking how many times and when we eat during the day or night may play a role on how our body digests the food and leads us to our BMI.

In order to understand how and when our bodies digest food, scientists studied the relationship between meal frequency and timing and the changes in BMI. They hypothesized that an increased frequency of meal intake paired with a short overnight fast would result in an increase in BMI. In addition, skipping breakfast and having a heavier dinner would also result in an increased BMI. Participants of the study were aged 30 or older and completed a lifestyle questionnaire that included questions about their dietary habits, physical activity and demographic information. They were also asked to fill out additional questionnaires about other various factors of their life to understand their meal frequency and timing. With all this information, the scientists also recorded their number means per day, length of overnight fast, if and/or when they had breakfast, and when they had their biggest meal of the day. After analyzing participants’ BMI data over a period of several years, they concluded that participants who had 1-2 meals had decreases in their BMI per year while those who ate more than 3 meals per day and snacking had an increase in their BMI. They also found that participants who had breakfast as their largest meal and/or had longer overnight fasts had a reduction in their BMI and those who skipped breakfast and had dinner as their largest meal had an increase in BMI. All of this data illustrates that having breakfast as the largest meal and having fewer than 3 meals a day with a longer overnight fast resulted in helping adults stay healthy. 

This topic is important because what we put in our bodies is what fuels us.Understanding our nutritional habits will help us know the optimal times  and frequencies for our meals. This will help anyone who is trying to lose, gain or maintain weight in a healthy way. Finally, keeping track and being proactive of our health can reduce our risk of developing obesity and other health disorders in the future. 

Work(s) cited:

[1] The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 147, Issue 9, September 2017, Pages 1722–1728, 

[2] Image retrieved from:


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