Obesity: US Adults Eat More—and More Often

The US obesity epidemic has been fueled not just by eating larger portions, but by eating more often. (Image: Liza McCorkle/iStockphoto.com)

Culinary grazers might want to declare independence from frequent snacking this Fourth of July weekend. A new study shows that in the past 15 years, US adults consumed more calories by eating more frequently than by eating larger portions. Researchers say a shift has occurred from the previous 15 years, when US adults took in more calories from larger portions rather than more frequent meals and snacks.

The study, by researchers at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health in Chapel Hill, is believed to be the first to examine 3 main components of the US obesity epidemic: portion sizes, how often people eat meals and snacks, and the number of calories in specific amounts of food.

Using data from 3 national food and nutrition surveys, investigators compared how US adults’ eating habits changed from 1977 to 2006. Daily caloric consumption increased to 2374 calories in 2003-2006 from 1803 in 1977-1978, an increase of nearly 30%. Some of those calories came from 1 extra meal or snack added to the daily diet during that period.

From 1977-1978 to 1989-1991, US adults consumed 15 more calories per day by eating larger portion sizes, while an extra 4 calories per day were attributed to eating more often. But from 1994-1998 to 2003-2006, more frequent meals or snacks added 39 calories to US adults’ daily intake while portion size accounted for a decrease of 1 calorie per day.

“First, the food industry started ‘super sizing’ our portions, then snacking occasions increased,” said senior author Barry Popkin, PhD. “These findings suggest that efforts to prevent obesity among adults in the US should focus on reducing the number of meals and snacks people consume during the day and reducing portion size.”

Categories: Diet, Obesity, Public Health