Eating frequency and obesity and metabolic disease risk in Hispanic youth




House, Benjamin T.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The objective of this study was to analyze the relationship between eating frequency and adiposity and associated metabolic disease risk. The main hypothesis was that increased eating frequency compared to infrequent eating frequency would be related to reduced adiposity and metabolic disease markers, as well as healthier dietary and physical activity behaviors in Hispanic youth. For this investigation four cross-sectional analyses were performed in Hispanic youth age 8-19 y with a combined sample size of 1185. Three of the studies completed included gold standard measures of dietary intake, body composition, metabolic parameters, physical activity, and specific fat distribution. The forth included a questionnaire filled out by over 700 Hispanic college freshmen age 18-19 y at the University of Texas at Austin. The first two analyses included two separate cohorts of overweight or obese minority youth ages 8-18 y (n=185 and n=191)1,2. Frequent Eaters (4.0 eating occasions (EOs) per day) compared to Infrequent Eaters (2.4 EOs per day) consumed more calories per day (p≤0.01), ate more often (p≤0.01), consumed less calories per EO (p≤0.01), yet exhibited lower visceral adipose tissue (p=0.03), BMI (p≤0.01), waist circumferences (p≤0.01), fasting insulin (p=0.02), HOMA-IR values (p=0.02), and lower triglycerides (p≤0.01), and higher beta cell function (p=0.01) and acute insulin response (p=0.02). To date, these were the first studies investigating eating frequency and adiposity and metabolic disease risk in Hispanic youth. We know minority youth tend to eat less often than Non-Hispanic Whites and that first year college students are particularly susceptible to weight gain and poor overall health. Given this combined with our previous findings and that in Hispanic high school graduates were more likely to be enrolled in college than NHW or blacks, we wanted to further explore this high risk population as they transitioned to college. We conducted a large cross-sectional study with 709 Hispanic college freshmen that completed a questionnaire to identify eating frequency, physical activity levels and reported height and weight. We found eating frequency to be positively related to moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA), but not overweight or obesity prevalence. Also, those who ate 4 or more times per day were 2.5 times more likely to spend at least 150 minutes in MVPA per week compared to those who ate 2 or less times per day. We further brought in 100 of the 709 in for extensive in-person testing in which 92 subjects had complete data. We found frequent eaters ate 44% more often (p≤0.01) and consumed 27% less calories per eating occasion (p≤0.01), while consuming 21% more kcals per day (or 445 less kcals per day) (p≤0.01) compared to infrequent eaters. Frequent eaters had 8% lower BMIs (p=0.02), 60% lower BMI z-scores (p=0.03), 21% lower visceral adipose tissue (p=0.03), 26% lower subcutaneous adipose tissue (p=0.03), and 8% higher total body fat (p=0.04) compared to infrequent eaters. These findings suggest that increased eating frequency is related to decreased obesity and metabolic disease risk in Hispanic youth and Hispanic college freshmen, despite increases in energy intake. Additionally, in a very large and exclusively Hispanic college freshmen population eating frequency was related to self-reported increases in physical activity. Thus, increasing eating frequency may be a viable public health message among Hispanic youth and Hispanic college students, yet more research is needed to understand the potential mechanisms and investigate a causal relationship.


LCSH Subject Headings