|dc.description.abstract||Background: Childhood obesity is a growing epidemic in New Zealand, with 11% of children obese and 22% overweight in 2014/15. There is evidence that eating more frequently may be associated with improved body composition, however the current literature is limited. Eating frequency may also be associated with nutrient intake or diet quality. Eating frequency is important given that children have a smaller stomach capacity, yet high nutrient requirements, compared to adults.
Objective: The aim of this study was to investigate eating frequency in 5-year old New Zealand children, and whether eating frequency is associated with body mass index (BMI), energy or nutrient intake.
Design: The EAT5 Eating Frequency cross-sectional study recruited primary caregivers of healthy 5-year old children based in Wellington, Auckland and Dunedin, New Zealand (the candidate was responsible for the Wellington phase of the study). Each participant completed a weighed diet record (WDR) of their child’s food and beverage intake on three non-consecutive days over three to four weeks. The height and weight of each child were measured at baseline, and a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) was completed at each of two appointments. Eating frequency was determined using parent-defined eating occasions, excluding occasions consisting of water only. Dietary data were entered using the dietary analysis software programme, Kai-culator, and average nutrient intake was analysed.
Results: Fourteen children were recruited in Wellington, resulting in a final sample size of 82. The average eating frequency was 6.1 eating occasions per day. Mean BMI z-score in this sample was 0.37 (standard deviation 0.72). There was no significant association between eating frequency and BMI (odds ratio 0.90; 95% CI 0.67, 1.21; p = 0.478). When children ate at least 6 times per day, they consumed significantly more energy (942 kilojoules; 95% CI 496, 1387; p < 0.001) than when they ate five or fewer times a day. While total intake of carbohydrate, protein, fibre, sugars and added sugars were significantly higher with higher eating frequency, there was no significant difference in percentage of total energy intake from carbohydrate, protein or fat. However, significant positive associations were observed between eating frequency and calcium and iron intake. There was no significant association found between eating frequency and vitamin C or zinc intake in this sample of 5-year old children.
Conclusion: On average, eating frequency in this study was consistent with the Ministry of Health guideline that up to 6 meals or snacks should be eaten a day, although average eating frequency exceeded this recommendation for 41% of children. Eating frequency was not associated with the BMI of 5-year old New Zealand children in this study. Furthermore, eating frequency did not appear to be associated with the percentage of energy from macronutrients. However, there may be benefits for calcium and iron intake with higher eating frequency associated with higher intake.||