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Slow eating can be good for your health

Katherine Hawton

Dr Katherine Hawton

25 October 2016

What we eat has wide-ranging impacts and long lasting effect on our health: unhealthy eating may lead to obesity diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Eating slowly is thought to reduce how much you consume overall, but how does the speed of eating affect our bodies’ responses to food? A recent research project at the University of Bristol produced some interesting evidence.

Dr Hawton, a Paediatric Trainee in the Severn Deanery, has always been interested in research and believes that incorporating latest research evidence with clinical medicine is essential to benefit the lifelong health of children. She is particularly interested in nutrition and obesity, and it was with the aim of enhancing her research skills and gaining further evidence on prevention strategies and interventions to treat childhood obesity that she applied for Elizabeth Blackwell Institute Clinical Primer Fellowship.

The aim of Dr Hawton’s study during her Fellowship was to investigate the effect of eating rate on post-meal responses by performing brain scans (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)), appetite ratings, assessing meal enjoyment, memory for recent eating and later snack consumption. Twenty young-adult participants were randomly assigned to consume a macaroni cheese meal at a ‘normal’ or ‘slow’ rate. Participants then had post-meal blood tests and appetite ratings at regular intervals, before having an fMRI scan involving a memory test 2-3 hours after eating and finally being offered ad libitum snacks.

The results showed that relative to the ‘slow’ group, immediately after eating, the ‘normal’ group reported greater fullness, enjoyed the meal more and found it more satisfying. However, two hours after eating the ‘slow’ group reported greater fullness, scored higher on the portion size memory tasks and ate 25% fewer snacks.

Working with Professor Hamilton-Shield and Dr Hinton (School of Clinical Sciences and Nutrition BRU) at the Clinical Research Imaging Centre (CRIC) through analysis of fMRI scans Dr Hawton was able to show that different parts of the brain were activated during different types of memory tasks with relation to portion size and time since eating, and some differences in activation between the ‘slow’ and ‘normal’ groups. There were also differences between the groups in satiety hormone profiles persisting for three hours after the meal. What this project showed is that eating a meal slowly improved memory for the meal, increased the sense of fullness and satiety and led to lesser snack consumption – however, it came at a price of not enjoying the food so much!

Dr Hawton presented the results of her work at the 24th Annual Meeting for the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behaviour, 12-16 July 2016, Porto, Portugal and the 55th Annual Meeting of the European Society of Paediatric Endocrinology, 10-12 September 2016, Paris, France.

Dr Hawton, now Honorary Research Assistant at the School of Clinical Sciences, University of Bristol, said: ‘I am extremely grateful for the EBI Clinical Primer Scheme for providing the opportunity for me to undertake a dedicated period of research in a field which I have had a longstanding interest in. During the six month period, the award enabled me to complete a pilot study, develop a range of research skills and meet a network of researchers within the University of Bristol and further afield. The results of this study are encouraging for the design of potential interventions to prevent or treat childhood obesity which is now such an important public health issue. I now plan to apply for a PhD to investigate whether the results of this study can be replicated in children and in the longer term I hope to pursue a career in Academic Medicine, combining clinical work in Paediatrics with nutritional research. The support and funding of the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute has provided a springboard to access an invaluable range of opportunities for my research career development.’

Further information

Read more about Dr Hawton’s research:

Visit the EBI Website to learn more about the Institute. 

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