Meal size is a critical driver of weight gain in early childhood
Larger serving sizes and more frequent eating episodes have been implicated in the rising prevalence of obesity at a population level. This study examines the relative contributions of meal size and frequency to weight gain in a large sample of British children. Using 3-day diet diaries from 1939 children aged 21 months from the Gemini twin cohort, we assessed prospective associations between meal size, meal frequency and weight gain from two to five years. Separate longitudinal analyses demonstrated that every 10 kcal increase in meal size was associated with 1.5 g/wk or 4% (p = 0.005) faster growth rate, while meal frequency was not independently associated with growth (β = 0.3 g/wk p = 0.20). Including both meal parameters in the model strengthened associations (meal size: β = 2.6 g/wk, p < 0.001; meal frequency: β = 1.0 g/wk, p = 0.001). Taken together, the implication is that meal size promotes faster growth regardless of frequency, but meal frequency has a significant effect only if meal size is assumed to be held constant. Clearer advice on meal size and frequency, especially advice on appropriate meal size, may help prevent excess weight gain.