Recent data from small numbers of children studied under controlled protocols indicate that intraindividual variation in energy consumption over 24 hours is smaller than variation from eating occasion to eating occasion, implying that children self-regulate their energy consumption. This hypothesis was tested children living in their everyday environment. Between 1986 and 1989, 24-hour recalls were administered on seven occasions (four times in 1986 through 1987 and three times in 1988 through 1989) to the mothers of 181 preschool children in New York City. Each 24-hour period was divided into six meals or snacks. The coefficient of variation (standard deviation divided by the mean) was calculated for each child for energy consumption at each eating occasion and for the day as a whole. Coefficients of variation for energy consumption at the six eating occasions ranged from 46.5% to 165.8%, compared with 30.3% for the whole day. This coefficient of variation for the observed whole-day energy consumption was significantly less (P < .001) than would be expected if no autoregulation of energy intake (no meal-to-meal correlation) occurred. These findings in children living in their everyday environment are consistent with observations under more controlled study conditions. These data suggest that children who eat less at one meal compensate at another, although the data do not address the issues of longer term energy self-regulation, overall energy balance, or diet quality.

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