Traditional investigation of the diet-health relation tends to focus on singular behaviors such as breakfast skipping or aspects of dietary intake such as individual nutrients in relation to health outcomes. An emerging field of study called temporal dietary patterns takes a more inclusive examination of the diet-health relation. Temporal dietary patterns, which refers to the timing, frequency, and regularity of food intake, may provide stronger associations between indicators of health and the role of diet. Although studies have demonstrated an association between time of eating (late-night eating compared with early eating) and health, studies have not focused on eating occasions comprehensively throughout the day. Understanding whether and how patterns of intake over a day, including the timing, amount of energy, and sequence of eating occasions are linked with health status may provide a window to detect behavior patterns that predispose to obesity and chronic disease.

To examine the association between temporal dietary patterns and selected health status indicators, Heather Eicher-Miller (Purdue University) and colleagues used 24-h dietary recall data from 1627 nonpregnant US adult participants aged 20-65 y from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2003-2006); a nationwide survey conducted in the United States to assess health and nutritional status. Data-driven methods were used to cluster participants into 4 groups representing distinct temporal dietary patterns. Associations were made between temporal dietary patterns and health status by inferential analysis.

Temporal dietary patterns were associated with body mass index, waist circumference, and obesity but not with any of the other health status indicators or diseases investigated. Study findings revealed that a temporal dietary pattern characterized by 3 evenly spaced, energy balanced eating occasions throughout the day was linked with improved health status compared to the other 3 patterns characterized by distinct peaks in energy intake at different times throughout the day. A significantly lower mean body mass index and mean waist circumference, and lower odds of obesity relative to normal weight status were associated with evenly spaced energy balanced eating occasions consumed throughout the day. Thus, this temporal dietary pattern has a positive relationship with risk factors for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The incorporation of time to the concept of dietary patterns, including the amount of energy and sequence of eating occasions, could provide insight into the detection of behavioral patterns that predispose obesity and chronic disease. Additional research is needed to further elucidate these findings.

References Aqeel MM, Guo J, Lin L, Gelfand SB, Delp EJ, Bhadra A, Richards EA, Hennessy E, Eicher-Miler HA. Temporal Dietary Patterns Are Associated with Obesity in US Adults. The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 150, Issue 12, December 2020, Pages 3259–3268,

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