More than half of consumers eat across a 15-hour span daily, study finds

By Hal Conick

- Last updated on GMT

Many consumers eat over longer time-spans than they realize, say researchers
Many consumers eat over longer time-spans than they realize, say researchers

Related tags Nutrition

Consumers end up eating for much longer stretches of the day than they had anticipated with over half of adults eating over a 15-hour span daily, says new research.

The study, which appeared in Cell Metabolism​, found that although most participants thought they didn’t eat regularly outside of their breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack routines, they actually ended up eating throughout the day and well into the night​. This led to “metabolic jetlag,”​ the study found, which is similar to what one might experience from jet travel between time zones.

Why is this problematic? With the litany of on-the-go snacks available to consumers now, it is much easier for people to fill their days and nights with constant, quick snacks.

Satchidananda Panda, an associate professor in the Regulatory Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, told BakeryandSnacks this has been found to be a harmful pattern for sleep and obesity for living animals of all kinds. He and other researchers at Salk wanted to test this theory on humans.   

“If animals eat continually over a long period of time, [they become] obese, have high cholesterol and all kinds of chronic metabolic diseases. That’s why we wanted to test when people eat,”​ he said. “It has been shown that this eating pattern is unhealthy.”

Testing the subjects

Panda and fellow study author Shubhroz Gill monitored what 150 local San Diego men and women ate via a newly-created smartphone app.

For three weeks, the participants (ages 21 to 55) shot photos of all the food, drinks and nutritional supplements they consumed and entered them into the app. They were not asked to alter their diets. The app tracked caloric intake of the food, as well as where and when it was consumed.

After the three weeks, researchers found that food intake was not only erratic, but it happened on a continuous basis.  

“Most people don’t actually realize [what they eat],”​ he said. “They didn’t even realize they were eating so many times throughout the day … Most of us don’t realize how frequently we’re eating, it’s almost like if I don’t stand in front of a mirror, I don’t know what I look like. And if I turn in front of the mirror, I’m surprised. That’s exactly what happened.

“Everyone had an idea how they’re eating. But they looked at the data and even they were surprised how they were eating.”

Panda said he wants to expand the study to look at a much larger group of Americans. He hopes to utilize big data via a new app​ to find how people use certain foods, what is consumed by area, gender differences of consumption, when they take vitamins and minerals and the interaction between what people consume.

Facts found within the study

Some of the information found in this study includes:

  • Less than 25% of calories came before noon on average; more than 35% came after 6 p.m.
  • The daily intake exceeded 14.75 hours of half of the participants.
  • Overweight participants who were accustomed to eating more than 14 hours a day reported reduced body weight by 3.5%, increased energy and improved sleep by reducing consumption time to 10 to 11 hours.

“While the relative contribution of daily eating pattern, calories, and nutrition quality to multifaceted health improvement in humans should be examined in detail in future studies, our results highlight that suitable manipulation of the diurnal temporal pattern of caloric intake is a feasible therapeutic approach for improving human health in the free-living condition, in spite of the vast variety of food and beverage types consumed by the average person from day to day,”​ the study said. 

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