Eating more slowly could be the answer to beating the battle of the bulge, according to a new survey.

Middle-aged women who eat slowly are much less likely to be overweight or obese than those who eat at a faster pace, University of Otago research shows.

Department of Human Nutrition researchers analysed the relationship between self-reported speed of eating and body mass index (BMI) in more than 1500 New Zealand women aged between 40 and 50.

Women in this age bracket have a high risk of weight gain.


Study principal investigator Caroline Horwath said that after adjusting for other factors including age, ethnicity, smoking, physical activity and menopause status, the researchers found that the faster women reported their eating speed to be, the higher their BMI.

"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 1.95 kg weight increase in a woman of average BMI for this group."

Dr Horwath said that because the study was unable by itself to show whether faster eating speed actually caused increased BMI, the researchers have been following up the women to see if faster eaters gain more weight over time.

"The size of the association found in this initial research suggests that if there is a causal link, reduction in eating speed is a very promising way to prevent weight gain and may lead to decreases in BMI similar or greater than those sustained in weight management programmes," she said.

Results from the two-year follow-up are expected to be published next year.

If analysis of the data confirmed a causal relationship, Dr Horwath and her team will test interventions that include a focus on encouraging women to eat more slowly.