Kids who skip breakfast tend to gain more weight

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, or so goes the old adage. However, in today’s fast-paced society, people are cutting corners at every turn to save some time. One of these oft-cut corners during the morning rush  is breakfast.

While some individuals skip breakfast in an effort to curb their daily calorie intake and thus lose weight, others simply don’t give themselves enough time in the morning before they’re off for the day. Whatever the case, research suggests breakfast skippers are doing more damage than good.

For example, many cross-sectional findings have suggested that breakfast skipping is associated with a higher body weight. However, due to the nature of the analysis it is difficult to ascertain what preceded what: the excess weight or the skipping breakfast.

A new study in the International Journal of Obesity evaluated the prospective relationship between skipping breakfast and change in weight over a 2 year period among 68,606 Chinese grade school children.

Of all the kids assessed, approximately 5% of both the boys and girls were skipping breakfast. As suggested by prior studies, when assessed at one time-point those who were skipping breakfast also tended to be heavier.

In the prospective analises, the authors found that those kids who were skipping breakfast in grade 4 tended to gain significantly more weight by grade 6 than those who ate breakfast. This observation was particularly strong among kids who also skipped lunch.

That is, kids who skipped breakfast and also lunch had the highest risk of gaining weight over the 2 year follow-up period.

I realize it is a bit counter-intuitive that skipping meals, therefore cutting calorie intake would result in weight gain rather than loss, but there are a few plausible reasons for such an observation.

For example, it has been suggested that breakfast-skippers are more likely to eat between meals and also that these in-between-meals tend to be of high fat/sugar/calorie composition. I know from personal experience that when on occasion I would miss breakfast, by the time 10:30am came around I was ravenous with particular craving for specific foods, namely of the greasy, high-calorie variety.

Alternatively, kids and adults who skip breakfast may be less likely to be physically active throughout the day, thereby reducing caloric expenditure.

Whatever the mechanism, one thing is certain: skipping breakfast is not likely to have the intended result of reduced body weight.

Peter

Tin, S., Ho, S., Mak, K., Wan, K., & Lam, T. (2011). Breakfast skipping and change in body mass index in young children International Journal of Obesity DOI: 10.1038/ijo.2011.58

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14 Responses to Kids who skip breakfast tend to gain more weight

  1. Thomas Kern says:

    i don’t have access to nature.com and can’t find it freely available online but where does it say that calories are actually changed?
    the “abstract” doesn’t mention it at all

    “I know from personal experience that when on occasion I would miss breakfast, by the time 10:30am came around I was ravenous with particular craving for specific foods, namely of the greasy, high-calorie variety.”

    thats you. i am overweight but eat 3-4 hours after i get up. what i am eating? amaranth/spelt muesli with a single fresh, raw fruit and some nuts.

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  2. Given the (apparently) conflicting research re intermittent fasting, I would bet that it might depend on the general composition of the person’s diet. Skipping breakfast on a high carb diet with perhaps some blood sugar control issues would be very problematic. But if you’re eating a moderate or lower carb diet, you’re probably able to going longer stretches without food without problems (and in fact, there may be some benefits).

    I’m not a total paleo evangelist, but I think there is something to be said for evaluating this stuff against our evolutionary history. Grok certainly didn’t eat 3 squares a day, nor did he eat every couple of hours. So it seems unlikely we’re “built” to require food upon waking.

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  3. Neal W. says:

    The reason you got so hungry skipping breakfast is because you’re not used to it. Given the research in intermittent fasting, it seems more plausible to me that there is no direct link between skipping breakfast and weight gain. There’s probably a third factor which explains the correlation.

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    • Travis says:

      I’m very skeptical about intermittent fasting in terms of long-term weight loss since it seems like an approach that would be extremely difficult for anyone to maintain long-term. That being said I haven’t read a ton of intermittent fasting studies – do you have links to any good long-term ones in humans?

      Travis

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      • Neal W. says:

        Well, no diet does well for long term adherence, in general. Adherence is about the determination of the individual and finding a diet that best fits the persons likes/dislikes and situation. I’m sure that many people would not like intermittent fasting, but there are plenty of people who do.

        There was a recent review of IF here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21410865

        A quick glance shows 3 studies in humans that are between 5-6 months.

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  4. Travis, I don’t think it’s hard at all if the diet supports it. I’ve got a few references saved, but suspect you’re better off poking around on leangains: http://www.leangains.com/search/label/Research

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  5. Pingback: Sweat Science » Skipping breakfast leads to lead poisoining?

  6. Anoop says:

    Nice blog!

    I think it is hard to assign a causative role to anything from observational studies.

    I can see another confounding factor here: parents. If you are born into a healthy and educated family, you will be told to eat breakfast since they have read that breakfast helps. And these are the same parents who will stress about eating fruits and vegetables, limiting snacks and such. So it may not be the breakfast. The same goes for adults who skip or eat breakfast. There might be cultural factors that affected the results. Or maybe the breakfast skippers ate outside and were more prone to eating junk food.

    I just think when people get hungry they forget about all the health and whatever. It is the same advice as don’t go grocery shopping on a hungry stomach.

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  7. Thomas says:

    anoop, thats quite a leap of confidence there. and i am pretty sure you are very wrong about it.

    “healthy and educated family”

    since nutritional “science” lives off the fact they can’t provide proof of anything, the healthy and educated family might subscribe to skipping breakfast (i.e. IF) because people claim its healthy.
    thats the problem in a science that is not a science (i.e. you can’t test hypothesises and explanations).

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  8. Anoop says:

    Hi Thomas,

    I think it is pretty clear about the socio-economic factors that can influence food intake. Below is as study which shows how breakfast consumption can be linked to lifestyle and/or parental education ( by the same authors).

    Lifestyle and socioeconomic correlates of breakfast skipping in Hong Kong primary 4 schoolchildren.
    Tin SP, Ho SY, Mak KH, Wan KL, Lam TH.

    School of Public Health, The University of Hong Kong, 21 Sassoon Road, Pokfulam, Hong Kong SAR.
    Abstract
    OBJECTIVE: Although breakfast is associated with different benefits, breakfast skipping is increasingly common among children. This study aimed to identify lifestyle and socioeconomic correlates of breakfast skipping in Hong Kong schoolchildren.

    METHODS: 68 606 primary 4 participants of the Department of Health Student Health Service in 1998-2000 reported breakfast habit and other lifestyle characteristics using a standardized questionnaire. Height and weight were measured by trained SHS nurses. Socioeconomic data were reported by parents. In cross-sectional analysis, multivariate logistic regression was used to identify lifestyle and socioeconomic correlates of breakfast skipping.

    RESULTS: 3 598 subjects (5.2%) usually skipped breakfast. Breakfast skipping was associated with being overweight (Odds ratio=1.59, 95% CI: 1.46 to 1.73) and obese (2.06, 1.80 to 2.36), and unhealthy dietary habits including more frequent junk food (1.23, 1.14 to 1.33) but less frequent fruit/vegetable (1.23, 1.13 to 1.34) and milk (1.98, 1.80 to 2.16) intake. Breakfast skippers tended to skip lunch, do less extra-curricular physical activity, watch more television and have less educated parents.

    CONCLUSIONS: Breakfast skipping was significantly related to various health-compromising lifestyle characteristics and lower parental education. Breakfast habit can be a potential lifestyle indicator. Education programmes aimed at specific target groups should encourage regular breakfast consumption.

    And science is limited in certain areas. Do we have an alternative?

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  9. Janis says:

    I’ve been 130 lbs at 5’8″ since I was about 18. I’m 45 now. I hate breakfast and skip it at almost every opportunity. It feels nauseating to me to put food on a newly awakened stomach. I have no idea what this means.

    I think that a lot of people just think about food an awful lot (I tend not to, although I do adore good, tasty food). Putting something in their stomachs the second they wake up satisfies their cravings and keeps them from gnawing their elbows by noon. For people who are trying to lose weight or are serious food addicts, this can be serious stuff. For someone like me who has to stop and recall when I ate last to determine if I’m actually hungry, skipping breakfast is a permanent state of being.

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