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Late Night Eating Adds Kilos

Researchers at Northwestern University found that mice put on twice as much weight when they ate at odd hours, despite eating and exercising as much as the mice who ate at normal hours.

The two groups of mice were fed identical diets that consisted of 60 percent fat. Mice are normally nocturnal. Half the mice were fed during the day, during their usual sleeping hours, and the other half at night, during normal eating hours.

After six weeks, despite eating the same number of calories and exercising the same amount, the mice fed during normal sleeping hours showed a 48 percent increase in weight, as opposed to the mice fed at normal eating hours, that showed only a 20 percent increase in weight.

Senior author of the study, Fred Turek, director of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology at Northwestern, said that human studies were necessary to see if there was an association with the timing of eating and body weight, but these findings were significant.

Deanna M. Arble, a doctoral student in Turek's lab who was a lead author on the paper, said, "One of our research interests is shift workers, who tend to be overweight. Their schedules force them to eat at times that conflict with their natural body rhythms. This was one piece of evidence that got us thinking - eating at the wrong time of day might be contributing to weight gain. So we started our investigation with this experiment."

Night shift workers are known to be at a higher risk for obesity, diabetes and other health problems, though many people with normal schedules tend to be late-night eaters as well.

Our circadian rhythms regulate our daily activity, feeding and sleep cycles in relation to external dark and light stimulus. Recent studies have suggested that they also may play a role in how our bodies use energy.

"How or why a person gains weight is very complicated, but it clearly is not just calories in and calories out. We think some factors are under circadian control. Better timing of meals, which would require a change in behaviour, could be a critical element in slowing the ever-increasing incidence of obesity," said Turek.

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