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Epidemiology and Population Health

Meal timing and obesity: interactions with macronutrient intake and chronotype



Timing of dietary intake may play a role in obesity. However, previous studies produced mixed findings possibly due to inconsistent approaches to characterize meal timing and not taking into account chronotype and macronutrients. To address the aforementioned limitations, we have defined meal timing relative to sleep/wake timing, investigated the relationship between meal timing and body mass index (BMI) dependent on chronotype, and examined the associations.


BMI, chronotype, and dietary intakes were measured in 872 middle-to-older-aged adults by six 24-h dietary recalls in 1 year. We defined four time windows of intake relative to sleep timing: morning (within 2 h after getting out of bed), night (within 2 h before bedtime), and two midday periods in between (split by the midpoint of the waking period).


A higher percent of total daily energy intake consumed during the morning window was associated with lower odds of being overweight or obese (odds ratio (95% confidence intervals), 0.53 (0.31, 0.89)). This association was stronger in people with an earlier chronotype (0.32 (0.16, 0.66)). A higher percent of total daily energy intake consumed during the night window was associated with higher odds of being overweight or obese (1.82 (1.07, 3.08)), particularly in people with a later chronotype (4.94 (1.61, 15.14)). These associations were stronger for the intakes of carbohydrates and protein than for fat intake.


Our study suggests that higher dietary consumption after waking up and lower consumption close to bedtime associate with lower BMI, but the relationship differs by chronotype. Furthermore, the data demonstrate a clear relationship between the timing of carbohydrate and protein intake and obesity. Our findings highlight the importance of considering timing of intake relative to sleep timing when studying the associations of meal timing with obesity and metabolic health.

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We thank the National Cancer Institute for access to NCI’s data collected by the Interactive Diet and Activity Tracking in AARP (IDATA) study. The statements contained herein are solely those of the authors and do not represent or imply concurrence or endorsement by NCI. MG was supported in part by The Spanish Government of Investigation, Development and Innovation (SAF2017-84135-R) including FEDER co-funding, and NIH grant R01DK105072 (to MG). FAJLS was supported in part by NIH grants R01HL094806, R01HL118601, R01DK099512, R01DK102696, R01HL140574, and R01DK105072 (to FAJLS).

Author contributions

QX, FAJLS, and MG designed research; QX analyzed data; QX, FAJLS, and MG wrote paper; QX had primary responsibility for final content. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Qian Xiao or Frank A. J. L. Scheer.

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Conflict of interest

FAJLS received speaker fees from Bayer Healthcare, Sentara Healthcare, Philips, Kellogg Company, Vanda Pharmaceuticals, and Pfizer. The other authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Xiao, Q., Garaulet, M. & Scheer, F.A.J.L. Meal timing and obesity: interactions with macronutrient intake and chronotype. Int J Obes 43, 1701–1711 (2019).

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