Average daily meal consumption has risen from 3.8 in 1977 to 4.8 in 2006, according to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers. In the piggiest of those surveyed (the top 10 percent), the number of daily meals and snacks rose from five to seven.
Researchers, who looked at surveys of daily eating habits over a 30-year period, also found that although the portion size of meals has plateaued in recent years, the total number of calories consumed is rising. By 2006, Americans were eating 570 more calories a day than they did in the late 1970s. About half of those extra calories are in the form of sugar-sweetened soft drinks, which have gained in popularity since the 1960s, the researchers say.
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"It really seems that in the last couple of decades, it is the number of eating occasions that is driving this change," Kiyah Duffey, a postdoctoral fellow at the UNC Interdisciplinary Obesity Center and one of the study's authors, told Reuters. An increase in food availability and a decline in regular mealtimes may be driving the pattern, she said.
According to the study, since the mid-1970s, the proportion of people who are obese in the U.S. has increased sharply. Since 1980, the proportion has doubled, and a third of all U.S. adults--more than 72 million people--are now classified as obese.
The study concludes: "These findings suggest that efforts to prevent obesity among U.S. adults should focus on reducing the number of meals and snacks people consume during the day."
So stop eating so much! Jeez!