Skipping Meals Could Shave Years Off Your Life

Cara Murez

Cara Murez

Published on November 28, 2022

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Key Takeaways

Limiting your food intake to a few hours of the day or skipping meals can put your health at risk

Study participants who skipped breakfast were more likely to develop deadly heart disease, and those who skipped other meals had a higher risk of premature death from all causes

Even if you eat three squares, how much time you put between meals also matters

MONDAY, Nov. 28, 2022 (HealthDay News) -- Intermittent fasting -- limiting eating to a small part of the day -- is very popular these days. But that doesn't mean it's healthy.

A new study published online in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dieteticssuggests that people who skipped meals, fasted or ate their meals too closely together overall had higher risks of premature death.

"At a time when intermittent fasting is widely touted as a solution for weight loss, metabolic health and disease prevention, our study is important for the large segment of American adults who eat fewer than three meals each day," said lead author Dr. Yangbo Sun. She's an assistant professor of preventive medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

“Our research revealed that individuals eating only one meal a day are more likely to die than those who had more daily meals," Sun said in a journal news release.

Participants who skipped breakfast were more likely to develop fatal heart diseases, Sun said. Those who skipped lunch or dinner increased their risk of premature death from all causes.

Even those who ate three meals a day but had them closer together than 4.5 hours apart had higher risk, the study found.

"Based on these findings, we recommend eating at least two to three meals spread throughout the day," Sun said.

The researchers analyzed data from more than 24,000 Americans, age 40 and older, who participated in a national health and nutrition survey between 1999 and 2014.

About 40% of respondents said they ate fewer than three meals a day. They were more likely to be younger, male, Black, or those with less education and lower family income. They were more likely to be food insecure, meaning that they didn't have enough money to buy healthy food. They were also more likely to smoke, drink more alcohol, and to eat more snacks and less healthy foods, the study found.

Senior author Dr. Wei Bao, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, said the results are significant even after accounting for those diet and lifestyle factors.

"Our findings are based on observations drawn from public data and do not imply causality," he said in the release. "Nonetheless, what we observed makes metabolic sense."

Skipping meals usually means eating more at one time, Bao said. This can aggravate blood sugar regulation and lead to health issues.

This can also explain the link between a shorter meal interval and death, as less time between meals would result in a larger energy load during the given period, according to the study.

The study noted that the American Dietary Guidelines for 2020-2025 did not address meal frequency, skipping and intervals because the committee developing them "was unable to find sufficient evidence on which to summarize the evidence between frequency of eating and health."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on nutrition.

SOURCE: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, news release, Nov. 22, 2022

What This Means for You

Spreading your meals out during the day -- at least 4.5 hours apart -- appears to be better for your body than skipping meals or intermittent fasting.

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