No Links Between Child Obesity And Eating Late-Night Dinners

Cartoon illustration of aquarius sign
Copyright: izakowski / 123RF Stock Photo

A recent study finds no reason to believe that children who eat later than others are at any greater risk of increased obesity.

 It might seem odd but there has been a perception that children who had late night dinners and snacks, certainly eating much later than children of an equivalent age were fatter. A recent study suggests this is a fallacy – time of day especially at night has no bearing on a child’s level of obesity and when they eat.

Research at King’s College, London and in the Netherlands examined data collected from a large number of adults and children between 2008 and 2012 as part of the National Diet and Nutrition Survey Rolling Programme.  This was reported in the British Journal of Nutrition and relied on food diaries.

The eating habits of 1,620 children were divided between two groups, 768 children aged between 4 and 10 years old and 852 children who were between 11 and 18. They found 6% of the boys and 9% of the girls ate their supper after 8 p.m.  Although the group of late diners was relatively small they found that both boys and girls were no more to be overweight than those eating between 2 and 8 p.m. The BMI of each child was measured using both height and weight information.

The results surprised the authors because it flew in the face of accepted wisdom and earlier published research. The authors stated:-

“our results do not support our original hypothesis that children with a later evening meal time have a greater risk of being overweight and/or obese, have higher daily intakes of energy and have poorer quality of diet.”

It has been long thought that the body’s circadian rhythms are affected by meal times because they alter metabolic processes in the body. Such interference was linked to a preponderance for putting on weight.

“Alongside changes in dietary quality and levels of physical activity, meal timing is one of many possible factors that has been suggested as influencing the trends in weight gain seen in children in the UK,” suggested the study co-author Gerda Pot, based at the Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences Division, King’s College, London and Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam (The Netherlands).

“However, the significance of its role is under-researched. As this is one of the first studies investigating this link, it would be useful to repeat the analysis in other studies. We are currently also using data from this survey to look at another important aspect of children’s food habits, the consumption of breakfast, to investigate the impact of eating breakfast on children’s daily calorie intake and overall dietary quality. And we are conducting analyses on the impact of sleep on obesity.”


Coulthard, J.D. and Pot, G.K. (2016). The timing of the evening meal: how is this associated with weight status in UK children? British Journal of Nutrition, 115, pp 1616-1622. doi:10.1017/S0007114516000635.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.