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Skipping Breakfast: Do the Benefits “Outweigh” the Risks?

October 16th, 2015

By Vineeta Rao, PharmD Student Cedarville University

You have heard the concept all over the news and social media: Skipping breakfast leads to weight gain. Nutritionists and researchers have long speculated that when one skips breakfast, his hunger and lack of energy will cause a rebound-effect in which he will consume more calories by snacking than he would have if he had eaten breakfast.2 But a recent study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found that when men and women skip breakfast, they actually consume far fewer calories compared to the days when they do eat breakfast.1

Breakfastpic

In this traditional crossover study, participants were allowed to eat as they pleased and report their own eating habits to the study investigators. Investigators consulted the same patients on various occasions to obtain a report of how many meals they had eaten, what they had eaten for each meal, and what time of day they had eaten. Then, investigators examined each person’s data individually; they compared the participant’s calorie intake on the days when he or she ate breakfast to a day when he or she did not eat breakfast. Researchers also included any snacking between meals in the total calorie count. On average, men in the study consumed 247 kcal more on a breakfast day than a non-breakfast day, and women consumed 187 kcal more on a breakfast day than on a non-breakfast day.1 Apparently, snacking was not enough to make up the calories lost from skipping breakfast! If participants regularly ate a few hundred fewer calories a day, then over time, breakfast skipping actually led to weight loss rather than weight gain.

Overall, the participant’s choices in food were similar between breakfast days and non-breakfast days, with breakfast days containing more whole grains, fruits, and dairy.1 One limitation of this study is that participants reported their own diet choices.1 Thus, if a patient forgot to report a snack item, the calorie deficit calculated above would not be correct. Additionally, participants tend to change their food choices when they know that they are being monitored.

Researchers all over the world cannot seem to agree on this matter. Skipping breakfast goes against the current standard of care, but it shows compelling evidence that it may actually assist in weight loss. Although many researchers have suspected that skipping breakfast will cause people to snack more frequently and to choose unhealthy snacks that lead to weight gain, very few research studies have shown this to be true. For example, one study that expected this to be true examined the effects of skipping breakfast in children in Taiwan and did not find any connections between skipping breakfast and obesity.2

So, does this mean that we should encourage breakfast skipping as a weight-loss strategy? An editorial response to this research study says yes! Because obesity and weight gain is associated with risks for chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke, getting rid of this small but significant calorie intake could help to prevent such diseases.3

However, other researchers are not convinced. The study in Taiwanese children found that breakfast-skipping may not be suitable for all people. For example, this study found that children who ate breakfast regularly had better cognitive ability and academic performance than children who did not eat breakfast regularly.2

Additionally, some research studies have shown that skipping breakfast can actually increase the risk of developing Type II diabetes by decreasing insulin tolerance and raising blood sugar. When three universities in China examined the risk factors that lead to Type II diabetic patients’ condition, they found skipping breakfast was associated with an increased risk for the disease.4

So what can we learn from all these findings? In short, skipping breakfast does not appear to lead to weight gain, but the current research on other health risks and benefits of skipping breakfast is controversial. You most likely won’t have to worry about gaining weight from missing breakfast now and then due to a busy schedule, but the research is too gray to conclude that skipping breakfast is safe and healthy for everyone. One fact that remains true across all these studies is that the quality of the food you eat matters. Whether you eat breakfast or not, it is important to eat a balanced diet with whole foods, good sources of protein, and a focus on non-starchy vegetables. Nutrient-rich diets are important in healthy weight management and prevention of disease states.5

What do you think? Does the benefit of weight loss “outweigh” the possibility of potentially contributing to the development of chronic diseases?

References:

  1. Kant AK, Graubard BI. Within-person comparison of eating behaviors, time of eating, and dietary intake on days with and without breakfast: NHANES 2005-2010. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;102(3):661-70.
  2. Ho C, Huang Y, Lo YC, Wahlqvist ML, Lee M. Breakfast is associated with the metabolic syndrome and school performance among taiwanese children. Res Dev Disabil. 2015;43–44:179-188.
  3. Levitsky DA. Breaking the feast. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;102(3):531-2.
  4. Bi H, Gan Y, Yang C, Chen Y, Tong X, Lu Z. Breakfast skipping and the risk of type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis of observational studies. Public Health Nutr. 2015:1-7.
  5. United States Department of Agriculture. Scientific Report of Dietary Guidelines 2015 Advisory Committee. <http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/PDFs/Scientific-Report-of-the-2015-Dietary-Guidelines-Advisory-Committee.pdf>

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8 Responses to “Skipping Breakfast: Do the Benefits “Outweigh” the Risks?”

  1. Katie Distel Says:

    It’s very interesting to see that the results of these studies are so mixed. I would have expected something more clear-cut. As a student, I think the downsides of skipping breakfast would outweigh the benefits. When I eat a solid breakfast in the morning, I find I am more alert in morning classes. I also find I am not as hungry for lunch, allowing me to eat something lighter with less fat and calories which tend to make me sleepy during afternoon classes. It would be interesting to see a study that investigated the effects of different types of breakfasts, comparing cereals and omelets, for example.

  2. Caleb Tang Says:

    Very interesting how the studies from Taiwan and China found negative results of skipping breakfast. I am of Asian-descent so I feel like this study really spoke to me. I actually don’t ever eat breakfast, but maybe I should start to wake up earlier and take the time to do so. Hopefully, I’ll be able to improve my RAT and exam scores while avoiding Type II diabetes this way. Yes, I agree with Katie that further study on this topic should relate to different types of breakfasts.

  3. Myriam Shaw Ojeda Says:

    I agree with Ankit, a further study could look at different breakfast foods and the related weight gain or loss. Protein rich foods have a higher satiety value and may prompt people to eat less between meals.

  4. Maame Debrah-Pinamang Says:

    How greatly does the type of breakfast food and amount of food influence the outcomes mentioned in the article? I usually don’t eat breakfast, but when I do have the time to eat breakfast, I notice that my grades are better and my focus in class improves. I have also noticed that I am more awake in the mornings that I do eat breakfast. I really enjoyed this study because it is something that pertains to my life and it’s an easy change I can make to improve my life.

  5. Caleb H VanDyke Says:

    I regularly eat breakfast and I find that skipping breakfast has an opposite affect on me. When I skip I find, because it isn’t part of my normal routine, I am more alert during class and studying because my day is “rushed.” It would also be interesting not only to do a study with non-breakfast eaters and breakfast eaters and testing their alertness with their normal routine vs an abnormal day. but also to see if the types of food themselves for breakfast make a difference. I know some of the discussions are if the foods impact weight gain or not but alertness and “instant” effects would be an interesting study as well.

  6. Emily Bruce Says:

    This is interesting. I wonder if the results would be different if they did the study in America. We seem to be all about the convenience of fast foods and I feel like people would be more willing to stop through a drive thru if they thought eating breakfast was that necessary. I have always heard that you had to eat breakfast to get your metabolism going for the day. I was under the impression that your metabolism didn’t truly “start” until the first meal of the day. I definitely want to look into this study further.

  7. Tori Bumgardner Says:

    Very interesting and well written! I always heard the same thing, that skipping breakfast was bad for you, so I try to always make sure I eat something in the morning before class. It seems like, based on the studies you found, it would be especially important for kids in school to make sure they are getting breakfast, so they can perform better in school.
    Also, like Emily said, I think it would be interesting to see what the effects of different types of food. Maybe an oatmeal breakfast would be better than a bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy breakfast. =)

  8. Jasmine Gunti Says:

    I really thought this article was interesting because it made us think completely differently than we are used to in terms weight gain. It ultimately comes down to a quantitative intake of calories as opposed to the trying to manipulate metabolism. However, I do think that eating breakfast has greater benefits in other aspects outside of weight gain which makes weight gain a tertiary issue compared the multiple benefits that eating breakfast provides.

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