London: Children who skip any of the main meals - breakfast, lunch and dinner - and cling on to sugary foods are more likely to have excess body fat and an increased risk of having diabetes, heart disease or stroke, research has found.

"Based on the findings, sticking to regular meals seems to be crucial for preventing overweight and cardiometabolic diseases already in childhood," said Aino-Maija Eloranta from University of Eastern Finland.

Cardiometabolic risk refers to the chances of having diabetes, heart disease or stroke.

A higher consumption of sugary drinks, red meat and low-fat margarine and a lower consumption of vegetable oil are also related to a higher cardiometabolic risk, the researchers noted.

"The more of these factors are present, the higher the risk," Eloranta added.

The study involved 512 Finnish girls and boys of six to eight years of age.

The study also showed that most children's diet was far from ideal. Less than half of the children ate all three main meals - breakfast, lunch and dinner - every day.

Instead, snacks were a major source of energy and sucrose. A minority of the children consumed vegetables, fruit and berries as recommended.

As many as a quarter of the children consumed sugary drinks daily. The intakes of saturated fat, sucrose and salt were higher and the intakes of dietary fibre, vitamin D and iron were lower than recommended among the children.

The findings showed that children who skipped meals and ate more protein were more likely to have excess body fat.

The study was published in the European Journal of Nutrition.