Late meal times linked with increased body fat

Eating soon before sleep is associated with higher per cent body fat, according to new research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The same study finds that body fat is not associated with the time of day, amount or composition of food intake.

During the study, which is the first to examine the impact of melatonin onset (which marks the onset of sleep) on food consumption and weight, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston collected data from 110 college-age participants. A mobile phone app was used to time-stamp, document and record the participants’ food intake over seven consecutive days.

The researchers found that individuals with high body fat percentages consumed most of their calories shortly before going to sleep when melatonin levels were high, compared to individuals with lower percentages of body fat.

They were unable to detect a relationship between the clock hour of food intake, caloric amount, meal composition, exercise levels, or sleep duration, and either of these body composition measures. These results provide evidence that the consumption of food during the circadian night, independent of more traditional risk factors such as amount or content of food intake and activity level, plays an important role in body composition.

The study’s lead author, Andrew McHill, said: ‘These findings suggest that the timing of when you consume calories, relative to your own biological timing may be more important for health than the actual time of day.’