OBJECTIVE: To characterize meal patterns in relation to obesity in Swedish women using a simple instrument describing meal frequency, meal types and temporal distribution. DESIGN: Cross-sectional parallel group design. SUBJECTS: Eighty-three obese women from the Swedish Obese Subjects (SOS) study were compared with 94 reference women, randomly recruited from the population. METHOD: A new, simplified and self-instructing questionnaire was used to assess meal patterns. Usual meal pattern was reported as time and meal type for each intake episode during a typical day. RESULTS: The obese women consumed 6.1 meals/day compared with 5.2 meals/day among the reference women (P<0.0001). All types of meals except 'drink meals' were significantly more frequently consumed in the obese group. The obese women also displayed a different meal pattern across the day, consuming a larger number of meals later in the day. As a result a larger fraction of each obese woman's total meals were consumed in the afternoon and in the evening/night. There was no difference in the number of obese vs reference women consuming breakfast. Snack meals were positively associated with total energy intake in both groups. CONCLUSIONS: A new simplified method assessing meal pattern revealed that the number of reported intake occasions across a usual day was higher in obese women compared with controls and the timing was shifted to later in the day. These findings should be considered in the treatment of obesity.