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  • Writer's pictureNatasha Gradov

Skipping Meals

salad with tomatoes, cheese, olives and basil

In the fast-paced rhythms of modern life, it's become increasingly common to skip meals, sometimes intentionally. A recent study sheds light on the potential drawbacks of deviating from the traditional three-meals-a-day routine. This study examined 24,011 adults aged 40 and above in the United States and discovered that having just one meal a day was associated with an elevated risk of overall mortality. Specifically, skipping breakfast was linked to a higher likelihood of dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD), while skipping lunch or dinner was associated with a greater risk of all-cause mortality, including an increased risk of CVD.

Interestingly, the study also identified a concern for those who consumed all three meals but did so within a short time frame. Consuming two consecutive meals within 4.5 hours of each other was also correlated with a heightened risk of all-cause mortality.

This research appears to complicate previous messages promoting intermittent fasting, suggesting potential health benefits. Instead, it underscores the importance of regular nourishment for the body. Yangbo Sun, an epidemiologist from the University of Tennessee, stated, "Our research revealed that individuals eating only one meal a day are more likely to die than those who had more daily meals. Based on these findings, we recommend eating at least two to three meals spread throughout the day."

Notably, approximately 30 percent of the participants in the study frequently consumed fewer than three meals a day. The data indicated that individuals who were younger, male, non-Hispanic Black, had lower education levels, and lower family incomes were more prone to skipping meals. Meal-skipping was also more common among individuals who smoked, consumed more alcohol, experienced food insecurity, had a less nutritious diet, snacked frequently, and had lower overall energy intake.

It's important to note that this study doesn't definitively establish a causal link between meal skipping and earlier mortality; it only highlights an association that merits further investigation. Other factors may be at play, influencing both eating patterns and mortality risk.

Nevertheless, the research team meticulously adjusted their findings to account for various dietary and lifestyle factors, including smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, energy intake, diet quality, and food security, and the link remained evident. Wei Bao, an epidemiologist from the University of Iowa, emphasized, "Our findings are based on observations drawn from public data and do not imply causality. Nonetheless, what we observed makes metabolic sense." This "metabolic sense" refers to the idea that skipping meals and consuming larger amounts of food at once can disrupt the body's glucose regulation and harm the metabolic system.

Recent statistics indicate that approximately 59 percent of men and 63 percent of women in the US adhere to the three-meal-a-day routine. This suggests a significant portion of the population may be exposing themselves to potential risks by forgoing breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Various factors contribute to this trend, such as work schedules, time constraints, economic factors, and different dietary and fasting approaches. The research team behind this study hopes that their findings will prompt further exploration of the importance of regular meal consumption. Wei Bao remarked, "Our research contributes much-needed evidence about the association between eating behaviors and mortality in the context of meal timing and duration of the daily prandial [meal] period." The study has been published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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