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Meal timings are important modifiable factor in type 2 diabetes risk, study confirms

Eating breakfast after 9am increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 59 per cent compared to people who eat breakfast before 8am, according to a new study.

Researchers from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) found that modifying the time at which people eat can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Eating breakfast before 8am and dinner before 10pm and eating more frequently throughout the day were associated with a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes.

The findings are published in the International Journal of Epidemiology and suggest meal timings are an important modifiable factor in managing the incidence of type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes incidence

The researchers analysed data from 103,312 participants who were part of the French NutriNet-Santé cohort between 2009 and 2021. Each participant recorded what they ate and drank over a 24-hour period on three non-consecutive days for an average of 5.7 days in the first two years of the study.

The researchers then assessed the participant’s health for an average of seven years and looked at the association between meal frequency and timing, the duration of night-time fasting between meals and the incidence of type 2 diabetes.

During the study, there were 963 new cases of type 2 diabetes, and the researchers found that the time at which food was eaten impacts the risk of developing diabetes.

Incidence of type 2 diabetes was higher in the participants who ate their breakfast after 9am compared to those who ate an early breakfast before 8am. Participants who ate an early breakfast and those who ate regularly throughout the day had a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes.

The researchers found no link between fasting and the incidence of type 2 diabetes and found that prolonged fasting was only beneficial if it included having an early breakfast before 8am and an early dinner.

Meals and glucose control

Dr Anna Palomar-Cros, a researcher from ISGlobal and first author of the study, said: ‘We know that meal timing plays a key role in regulating circadian rhythms and glucose and lipid control, but few studies have investigated the relationship between meal timing or fasting and type 2 diabetes.

‘Biologically, this makes sense, as skipping breakfast is known to affect glucose and lipid control, as well as insulin levels.’

The researchers suggest that a first meal before 8am and a last meal before 7pm may help reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes.

Some 4.3 million people in the UK live with type 2 diabetes, and estimates from Diabetes UK suggest that 2.4 million more people are at high risk of developing the disease. Type 2 diabetes is associated with several modifiable risk factors, including obesity and overweight and smoking.

A version of this story was originally published by our sister publication Nursing in Practice.