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Body’s Circadian System to Blame for Late Night Snacking

Update Date: Apr 30, 2013 12:38 PM EDT

Although obesity can result from a combination of factors, one the leading causes for this epidemic is a poor diet. People who are obese generally do not have healthy diets, along with other factors, such as the lack of exercise that could help maintain weight. Due to the fact that obesity contributes to several health complications, such as strokes and heart attacks, several researchers and health advocates have tried to find numerous ways of encouraging an overall healthier lifestyle. In another new study surrounding obesity, scientists concluded that late night cravings could be attributed to the body's natural circadian system.

According to the senior author of the study, Steven Shea, Ph.D., who worked with Frank Scheer, Ph.D. and Christopher Morris, Ph.D from the Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical school in Boston, MA, the body's circadian system increases hunger and cravings for sugary, salty, and high-caloric foods during the late evening hours. Shea is the director of the Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology at Oregon Health and Science University. The research team studied the appetite and food preferences of 12 healthy participants that were not obese. The adults stayed at the laboratory for 13 days under dim lighting with a strict schedule that timed when they would eat and sleep.

Based from the observations of this small group, the researchers concluded that the internal circadian system contributed to when people felt hunger, and thus, regulated eating habits. The researchers stated that people would generally be less hungry at eight in the morning and most hungry at eight at night. The evening peak in hunger is also linked to certain food cravings, such as sweets and fatty foods.

"Our study suggests that because of the internal circadian regulation of appetite, we have a natural tendency to skip breakfast in favor of larger meals in the evening. This pattern of food intake across the day is exactly what Sumo wrestlers do to gain weight," said Steven Shea. "So, it seems likely that the internal circadian system helps with efficient food storage. While this may have been valuable throughout evolution, nowadays it is likely to contribute to the national epidemic of obesity".

The researchers also mentioned the fact that previous researchers have discovered that people are staying up later than usual, which means that their likelihoods of eating fatty foods increase as well, doubling the chances of obesity. The researchers hope that if people recognized their risk factors for consuming high-caloric foods, they could take preventative measures, such as eating a larger meal during the day even if they do not have the craving for it.

The study was published in Obesity

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