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Eating slowly may lead to weight loss

Slow eating made people 42% less likely to be obese

Adrian O'Dowd

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

People who slow down the speed at which they eat, stop having after-dinner snacks and refrain from eating two hours before going to sleep appear to lose weight, suggests a study* published today in the online journal BMJ Open.

Japanese researchers found changes in these eating habits were strongly associated with lower obesity and weight, as well as having a smaller waist circumference.

Excess body weight and obesity can lead to an increased risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease and various forms of cancer, and previous studies have reported that regulation of body weight can be effective in lowering these health risks.

However, few studies have examined the causal relationships between lifestyle habits and obesity.

Researchers from the Kyushu University Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Fukuoka, Japan, set out to examine eating speeds in patients with type 2 diabetes to analyse the effects of changes in lifestyle habits on obesity.

They used health insurance data for 59,717 people with diabetes in Japan who submitted claims and had regular health check-ups between 2008 and 2013.

The claims data included information on dates of consultations and treatments, while the check-ups included measurements of weight (BMI) and waist circumference, and the results of tests for blood chemistry, urine, and liver function.

During the check-ups, participants were asked about their lifestyle, including their eating and sleep habits as well as alcohol and tobacco use.

They were also asked about their eating speed – categorised as fast, normal, or slow – as well as whether they ate dinner within two hours of going to sleep; snacked after dinner; and skipped breakfast three or more times a week.

Results showed that at the start of the study, 22,070 people routinely ate their food quickly; 33,455 ate at a normal speed; and 4,192 ate slowly. The slow eaters tended to be healthier and to have a healthier lifestyle than either the fast or normal speed eaters.

Around half of the total sample (just under 52%) changed their eating speed over the course of the six years being examined.

All the aspects of eating and sleeping habits that were studied, as well as alcohol consumption and previous obesity (defined as a BMI of 25 kg/m2) were significantly associated with obesity.

After taking into account potentially influential factors, the researchers found that compared with fast eaters, people who ate at a normal speed were 29% less likely to be obese, rising to 42% for those who ate slowly.

Although absolute reductions in waist circumference were small, they were greater among the slow and normal speed eaters.

Snacking after dinner and eating within two hours of going to sleep three or more times a week were also strongly linked to changes in BMI, but not having breakfast was not.

This was an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, eating speed was based on subjective assessment, and the researchers did not assess energy intake or physical activity levels, which could have been influential.

Nevertheless, the researchers said their findings were useful and could be explained by the possibility that it took longer for fast eaters to feel full, whereas this might happen more quickly for slow eaters, helping to curb their calorie intake.

They concluded: “Changes in eating habits can affect obesity, BMI, and waist circumference. Interventions aimed at reducing eating speed may be effective in preventing obesity and lowering the associated health risks.”

*Hurst, Y and Fukuda, H. Effects of changes in eating speed on obesity in patients with diabetes: a secondary analysis of longitudinal health check-up data. BMJ Open. DOI:10.1136/bmjopen-2017-019589.

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