IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Eating, exercise habits worsen during holidays

A person's food intake, physical activity and body weight vary by season, a study has found.
/ Source: Reuters

Results of a new study lend support to the idea that people’s eating habits vary according to the season, with people eating more in the fall and winter. What’s more, their body weight and physical activity levels also appears to follow suit in many cases.

“In anticipation of the possible weight gain during long winter months, individuals need to maintain energy balance,” study author Dr. Yunsheng Ma, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, told Reuters Health.

“Energy in -- food intake -- must be equal to energy out --mainly physical activity -- to avoid weight gain,” the researcher explained.

Various researchers have investigated the idea of seasonal variation in a person’s nutrient intake, but the findings have been inconsistent. Previous research has also investigated seasonal variations in physical activity levels and body weight.

In the current study, Ma and colleagues examined seasonal variations in all three areas: food intake, physical activity, and body weight. The 593 men and women included in their study, who were primarily recruited from a central Massachusetts health maintenance organization, were 48 years old, on average, and mostly overweight and obese.

At the start of the study, the researchers recorded the study participants’ body weight and reported dietary and exercise levels during the previous 24-hours. Similar information was recorded on a quarterly basis during a one-year study period.

Overall, the study participants reported consuming about 1,963 kilocalories per day, with approximately half of those calories coming from carbohydrates and nearly a third from fats.

Their calorie intake was the highest during the fall season, however, during which they reported consuming 86 kilocalories more per day than during the spring, when their calorie intake was lowest, Ma and colleagues report in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study participants also showed seasonal variation in the distribution of these calories, the report indicates.

Their carbohydrate intake appeared to peak in the spring, for example, while their intake of total fat and saturated fat was the highest during the fall.

Weight gain during winter
Further, the study participants’ body weight fluctuated by about one pound throughout the yearlong study period, but was the highest during the winter season, when they also reported participating in the least amount of physical activity, the researchers note. The study participants reported their highest level of physical activity during the spring.

Such seasonal variations in food intake, physical activity, and body weight, were particularly true among men, middle-aged study participants, and nonwhites, as well as among those with a high school education or less, the report indicates.

The reason for the winter variations may be partly due to the “calorie dense” foods consumed during the holiday season, Ma notes.

“Many individuals never lose that holiday pound, and in ten years, this becomes 10 pounds, which can impact health,” Ma said in a university statement.

Noting the inherent difficulty in many people’s attempts to lose weight, Ma stressed both the importance of balancing the number of calories consumed versus the number of calories burned and the importance of consuming a balanced diet.

“To avoid the winter weight gain, individuals need to be conscious of their diet and physical activity in the winter,” Ma told Reuters Health. “It is important to maintain a healthy weight throughout the year.”