After taking account of potentially influential factors, the results showed that compared with those who tended to gobble up their food, those who ate at a normal speed were 29 percent less likely to be obese, rising to 42 percent for those who ate slowly.
In addition, slow eaters tended to be healthier and to have a healthier lifestyle than those who ate quickly or at a normal speed. Between 2008 and 2013, these people had frequent medical check-ups that included body mass index () measurements, waistline measurements, and blood and urine tests.
Normal eaters made up the majority at 33,455, while just 4,192 people said they were slow eaters.
Ian MacDonald, professor of metabolic physiology at the University of Nottingham, expressed doubt about the findings, pointing out that few people changed eating speed during the study, and that it was not clear that such changes were behind a change to BMI.
This study could not, however, prove that eating speed causes or prevents obesity, only that it appears to be associated, the researchers noted. "It is certainly not appropriate to extrapolate from these observations to conclude about eating speed and the development of obesity - however attractive the idea that fast eaters are likely to eat more, and that eating more leads to weight gain", he told The Guardian.
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"That said, speed eating appears to be far more deleterious", Heller said. Experts believe the body's metabolism slows down towards the end of the day, so eating too late means calories are not burned off.
One of the main limitations of the study is that eating speed and other behaviors were reported by the participants and are therefore prone to subjectivity.
The World Health Organization considers someone with a BMI of 25 to be overweight and 30 or higher to be obese. Compared with the fast eaters, the slow eaters and normal eaters had lower odds for obesity (P .001 for both).
A possible reason? Fast eaters may continue to eat even after they are full, even when their bodies have an adequate amount of calories, since the brain takes a little time to interpret chemical signals from the stomach that say "enough".
Crowley notes that the study uses the Japanese standard of obesity, which is a BMI greater than 25.
For instance, we all "know" that it's good for us to have a disciplined lifestyle - ideally with meals at regular intervals - but do we know for a fact that if we implement these changes, we're going to lose weight? "Our model revealed that consistently eating breakfast can reduce obesity, which also corroborates the findings of previous studies".