A new study, published in the journal BMJ Open, suggests that eating meals more slowly could help to could help to prevent obesity, according to a report in the Guardian.
“Interventions aimed at altering eating habits, such as education initiatives and programs to reduce eating speed, may be useful in preventing obesity and reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases,” according to researchers in Japan.
The study examined a group of type 2 diabetics and found links between slower eating and lower body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference. The researchers looked at data from the health checkups and insurance claims of 59,700 people, collected between 2008 and mid-2013. Checkups included questions regarding lifestyle, such as whether patients skipped breakfast, snacked after dinner, and whether they consumed meals at a fast, normal, or slow pace. On average, faster eaters had an average BMI of 25, normal eaters had a BMI of 23.5, while slow eaters had a BMI of just over 22. Waist circumference also increased with eating pace. 45 percent of quicker eating patients were obese, while less than a quarter of the slower-eating patients were obese.
The study also found that good sleep habits, regularly eating breakfast, and avoiding regularly consuming dinner immediately before bed, were all linked to lower rates of obesity.
By looking at data from patients with multiple checkups, the study revealed that patients who changed these habits saw decreases in BMI.
In the past, other research have shown links between eating quickly and obesity, as well as acid reflux and metabolic syndrome.
However, the research has also faced criticism from scientists who warned against drawing conclusions from such a limited study. The research only looked at patients with type 2 diabetes, included very few older patients, and did not factor in exercise or total amount of food eaten each day. Even more suspect, the data was self-reported by patients subjectively measuring their own eating speed.
According to University of Nottingham metabolic physiology professor Ian MacDonald:
“It is certainly not appropriate to extrapolate from these observations to conclude about eating speed and the development of obesity – however attractive the idea that fast eaters are likely to eat more, and that eating more leads to weight gain.”
Other experts, though, such as National Obesity Forum chairman Tam Fry, consider it a foregone conclusion that eating too quickly can cause obesity. According to Fry:
“The speed at which a lot of people wolf down their food is undeniably a contributor to obesity. It takes fast eaters longer to feel full simply because they don’t allow time for the gut hormones to tell the brain to stop eating. Eating quickly also causes bigger blood sugar fluctuations which can lead to insulin resistance.”