Evidence of associations between meal frequency (MF) and snack frequency (SF) and diet and obesity in young populations is limited. This cross-sectional study examined MF and SF in relation to dietary intake and adiposity measures in British children aged 4-10 years (n 818) and adolescents aged 11-18 years (n 818). Based on data from a 7-d weighed dietary record, all eating occasions were divided into meals or snacks on the basis of contribution to energy intake (≥15 or <15 %) or time (06.00-10.00, 12.00-15.00 and 18.00-21.00 hours or others). All measures of MF and SF showed positive associations with energy intake, except for MF based on energy contribution in children. Irrespective of the definition of snacks, SF was associated with higher intakes of soft drinks, confectionery and total sugar, lower intakes of cereals, fish, meat, protein, PUFA, starch and dietary fibre, and a lower diet quality (assessed by the Mediterranean diet score, except for SF based on energy contribution in adolescents). MF based on time, but not based on energy contribution, was associated with higher intakes of confectionery and total sugar, lower intakes of fish, protein, PUFA and starch, and, only in children, a lower diet quality. All measures of MF and SF showed no association with adiposity measures. In conclusion, this cross-sectional study in British children and adolescents suggests that decreasing the number of small eating occasions (<15 % of total energy intake) regardless of the time of day may be important to improve diet quality but not adiposity.
- Meal frequency
- Snack frequency