Researchers at Otago University say that more than a third of middle-aged New Zealand women eat fast and this tendency could be leading to increased weight gain. The advice “eat slowly, eat less” has been around for decades but, unlike many dieting myths, this one seems to hold water.
Researchers led by Caroline Horwath have studied the relationship between speedy eating and body mass index in more than 1,500 New Zealand women aged between 40 and 50. The two-year study is a world first to examine the effect of quick eating over time.
The study showed that the faster women reported their eating speed to be, the higher their BMI or body mass index after adjusting for other factors including age, ethnicity, smoking, physical activity and menopause status. “For every one-step increase in a five-step scale ranging from `very slow' eating to `very fast', the women's BMI increased by 2.8 per cent, which is equivalent to a 1.95kg weight increase in a woman of average BMI for this group,” Dr Horwath said.
Far more women described themselves as fast eaters than slow eaters, with just over a third saying they ate relatively or very quickly. Only 15 per cent said they ate relatively or very slowly. Results were published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association
Wellington nutritionist Sarah Burkhart said the study reflected what she saw in her work. “I think that sometimes women can end up trying to eat quickly as they tend to get caught up with jobs and tasks and, although they know that they need to eat something, it is usually eaten very quickly and without much thought as they have something else they need to do. I often encourage both women and men to eat away from distractions like the TV or computer, and put down your knife and fork between mouthfuls,” she said.
The Otago researchers have been following up the women in the study to see if the speed-eaters have been gaining more weight over time.
Dietitian Rob Quigley said it would be difficult to prove a causal link. “This is another piece of information, another potential intervention that we can try and use at an individual level. There's not going to be a silver bullet ... to bring about changes in obesity levels in our country.”