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Eating late 'puts on weight'

9th September 2009

New research suggests that people who snack before bedtime are more likely to gain weight.

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The finding is based on data gathered from tests on laboratory animals.

Scientists at Northwestern University in Illinois, concluded that eating during the hours when the body is supposed to be sleeping can have big consequences.

The researchers fed high-fat food to two groups of mice at different times for a period of six weeks.

Both groups of mice received the same amount of exercise, while one was fed at routine intervals during a 12-hour day and the other during sleeping hours.

By the end of six weeks, the mice fed during sleeping hours had gained more than twice as much weight as the control group.

The 'midnight-snacker' mice had gained 10.4 grams on average, whereas mice fed the same high-fat food at regular intervals had only gained 4.4 grams on average.

Other recent studies have attempted to show whether or not the body's circadian rhythms play a role in metabolism.

Deanna Arble, the study's lead author, said that one of her team's research interests is shift workers.

She said that the observation that they tend to be overweight led to the research idea that eating at the wrong time of day might be contributing to weight gain.

The new finding may cause people who are trying to lose weight to change their behaviour.

Fred Turek, of the Northwestern University's Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology, where the research took place, said that the mechanism by which people gain weight is very complicated.

He said that weight gain is clearly not solely determined by calorie intake, and that better meal timing could be a critical element in slowing the ever-increasing incidence of obesity.

Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum, said that the new research is groundbreaking.

Obesity expert Louis Aronne of New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical Center, who was not involved in the study, said that scientists had previously questioned whether or not eating patterns had anything to do with gaining weight.

He said that, even though scientists observed that people who eat large meals before going to sleep and fast at breakfast tend to be overweight, they had no proof that eating late is a real problem.

However, the results of the study will still need to be replicated in humans.

Scientists think that body temperature, as well as sleep and hormones, all play a part in how people gain or lose weight.

Aronne said that if similar experiments find the same results in humans as in mice, they might clarify how much time of day matters when it comes to obesity.


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