Obesity studies have mainly focused on weight loss methods, either by reducing food intake or increasing physical activity. However, bodyweight needs to be controlled throughout one’s lifetime, not only in the short-term. Therefore, it is essential that weight control goals include both weight loss and weight maintenance. It is also necessary to change perspectives related to obesity, and strategies are needed to alter behaviors by changing individual perceptions. In South Korea, health promotion indices are the lowest in Gangwon Province, and this area had the worst obesity indices in South Korea during the last 5 years . In this study, we examined the relationships between obesity and eating rate to find strategies that could help prevent obesity in real-life settings.
In our study, the obesity rates in Gangwon Province were 36.5% in men and 29.9% in women, demonstrating a higher prevalence of obesity in men. After controlling for adjustment variables, male participants with an eating rate of ≤ 20 min had a higher obesity rate. Among women, the obesity rate was higher in participants with an eating rate of ≤ 20 min and irregular mealtimes. Regardless of gender, an eating rate of ≤ 20 min was correlated with obesity. Previous studies also showed similar results [15, 16]. Regardless, the study did not report a relationship between eating rate and obesity . It is important to highlight that studies on the physiological effect of the eating rate and calorie intake showed a relationship between satiation, satiety and health behavior [6, 18, 19]. Particularly, Andrade et al.  reported that the individuals who spend more time for one meal intake are satiety and satisfactory with food intake less weight and calories than the individuals who eat a meal within 20 minutes.
Also, important to mark the fact of the impact of South Korean culture that should not be excluded. The so-called “quickly–quickly” (bballi-bballi) culture permeates every aspect of the South Korean lifestyle, and meals are no exception. Ahn et al. (2007) found that the meal durations of university students with obesity were significantly shorter than those with a healthy weight . In another study of university students of both genders, students in the obese group were found to have a faster eating rate than those in the healthy group. Also, a longitudinal study among Japanese students reported that male student and those who have a faster eating rate in baseline had increased of overweight risk . In addition, it was found that shorter meal durations were associated with BMI, independent of overall energy intake . These findings further indicate the relationship between a fast eating rate and obesity.
Previous studies on middle-aged obesity showed that obese women had more irregular dietary habits and higher intakes of animal fat than did non-obese women [15, 24], and irregular breakfast habits contributed greatly to obesity . Consistently, in the present study, obese women were more likely than healthy-weight women to eat irregular meals. These findings suggest that irregular meals may promote binge eating, leading to faster eating rates, and are linked to obesity. However, in a study by Sohn and Jin, obesity was not associated with meal regularity or eating three meals per day among women aged 20 years or older . These inconsistent findings suggest that age might be an important factor contributing to obesity.
Programs and treatments for weight control based on behavioral correction require extensive time. However, many individuals desire to reduce weight within a short time . Adjusting personal dietary habits does not produce rapid weight loss, although lifestyle habits for obesity management play an essential role in obesity prevention and control . Notably, previous studies emphasized the need to increase non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) rather than exercise . For instance, a study comparing energy expenditure between obese and non-obese groups found lower NEAT due to sedentary behavior, resulting in reduced overall energy expenditure, in the obese group . This observation supports our findings that introducing simple habits into daily life may impact obesity.
Despite that our study does not aim to explore the influence of the social-demographic factors on the obesity rate, our findings contributed to previous studies were age, education level, occupation, and marital status were significant factors [31-33]. Middle age men were more predisposed to obesity rather than older adults, while women developed obesity with increasing age . The prevalence of obesity was higher among women who involved in unskilled work rather than the professional workers. However, this patent closely related to the level of education, and women with higher education might have more access and knowledge about the healthy lifestyle . Marital status was significant factors to develop obesity among the married men, that is similar to the previous studies [35, 36].
This study has several limitations. First, the study was designed as cross-sectional, so causal relationships between obesity and dietary behavior were not evaluated. Second limitation is that we could not measure the participants’ actual heights and weights or confirm their precise meal as data was self-reported based. Despite these limitations, the CHS provides large-scale research data at the local government level in South Korea using representative samples. Therefore, the relationships observed between obesity and eating rate are valid. The factors affecting obesity are considerably complex, and further studies are needed to elucidate the personal behaviors implicated in this study, as well as a longitudinal study is necessary to perform to evaluated continues effect of the eating rate on the obesity development. Notably, this study provided valuable data and findings by including multiple factors that could be used to distinguish between individual eating rate and physical activity. Therefore, the present findings will contribute to planning future obesity management programs. Weight control requires persistent behavioral changes and motivation, and obesity programs taking these factors into consideration need to be developed in the future.