For the review, Panagiota Kaisari and colleagues at Harokopio University in Athens combined the results of 11 studies involving nearly 19,000 kids aged 2 to 19. The studies typically compared kids who ate more than three meals per day with those who ate less often. Some studies counted snacks as "meals," while others did not.
With all the findings combined, kids who ate more often were less likely to be overweight. When the researchers took a closer look, though, the link seemed to hold true only for boys, and not girls.
It's not clear why girls and boys differed, according to Kaisari's team. And there could be other reasons that boys who eat frequently weigh less.
Some of the studies tried to account for those factors, such as exercise habits. But the studies varied in which factors they considered, and that's a limitation, Kaisari's team noted.
"This all raises more questions than answers," Field said.
It is biologically plausible that eating frequency affects metabolism and weight control, according to Field. And other studies, she said, have suggested that skipping breakfast is associated with weight gain -- though it's not clear why that is.
What is clear, according to Field, is that what your child eats, and how many total calories he or she gets, is key. "If you're eating frequently, but you're eating fast food, that's obviously not good," she said.
And if your child is currently eating three big meals, this study does not imply you should add snacks to that, Field stressed. "What you don't want parents to do," she said, "is add calories to what their child is already eating."
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has advice on healthy eating for kids.
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