Middle-aged women who eat slowly are much less likely to be overweight or obese than those who eat at a faster pace, according to University of Otago research.
The study by the Department of Human Nutrition researchers analysed the relationship between self-reported speed of eating and BMI, a measure of obesity, in more than 1500 New Zealand women aged between 40 and 50.
Women in this age bracket are known to be at high risk of weight gain.
Principal investigator Dr Caroline Horwath said that after adjusting for other factors including age, ethnicity, smoking, physical activity and menopause status, the researchers found the faster women reported their eating speed to be, the higher their BMI.
Results published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association show that for every one-step increase in a five-step scale ranging from "very slow" eating to "very fast", the women's BMI increased by 2.8 per cent, which is equivalent to a 1.95kg weight increase in a woman of average BMI for this group.
The study doesn't automatically prove faster eating speeds cause obesity but researchers are doing further work to see if there is a causal link. They are completing a two-year check-up on the women and results will be published next year.
"What we're doing is we're following up this group of women over a period of time and that will eventually allow us to understand whether eating faster now predicts weight gain in the future," Dr Horwath said.
Dietitian Rob Quigley said it would be difficult to prove a causal link.
"This is another piece of information, another potential intervention that we can try and use at an individual level. There's not going to be a silver bullet ... to bring about changes in obesity levels in our country."
Established food and nutrition guidelines were still the best bet.