Study: Breakfast Is the Most Important Meal of Your Life



It turns out that mom was right about the importance of eating a good breakfast before heading off to school. Research published in Public Health Nutrition found that poor breakfast habits among adolescents predicted metabolic syndrome in adulthood, particularly high fasting glucose, and central obesity. Metabolic syndrome was 68 percent more likely in adults who ate poor breakfasts in their youth.

At the onset, the researchers explained that poor diet in adulthood had been linked to metabolic syndrome, but few studies had examined how choices made in adolescent years contributed to this. Metabolic syndrome describes a variety of risk factors — like central (or abdominal) obesity and hypertension — which increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. The team went on to say that compared to non-breakfast eaters, when people regularly consume a meal first thing in the morning, the risk of metabolic conditions is lowered. 

A “poor breakfast” was defined as skipping the meal entirely, or only eating or drinking something sweet. A total of 88 respondents were deemed to eat a poor breakfast at age 16. Sixty-six skipped breakfast, 12 had a sweet drink, and 10 ate something sweet. The study did not attempt to define a “healthy” breakfast.

To evaluate the eating habits, a questionnaire was filled out by 16-year-olds in Luleå, Sweden in 1981. Follow-ups and health examinations were conducted at the ages of 18, 21, and 43. Retention was high throughout the 27 year study, with 94 percent of the baseline participating at age 43.

On the questionnaire, food items were broken into common breakfast groups (i.e. drinks, milk products, eggs, meat, fruit, vegetables, cereals, sweet bread), and respondents could also write in responses if what they ate did not correspond. When the participants were 43 years old, their waist circumference was measured, and blood samples were tested. To determine metabolic syndrome, the researchers used the International Diabetes Federation definition.

In all, 889 of the participants were identified as having metabolic syndrome, 9.9 percent of this cohort had poor breakfast habits. In addition to metabolic syndrome, this subsection had greater central obesity rates, high blood pressure, and high fasting glucose. The people who did not eat breakfast, or ate or drank sugary products for their morning meal, were more likely to have other poor health habits as well. They were less likely to exercise, and more likely to smoke than breakfast eaters. The increased risk of metabolic syndrome in adulthood remained even after researchers adjusted for these lifestyle factors.

“Poor breakfast habits at age 16 years predicted the metabolic syndrome at age 43 years, independently of early confounders,” like lifestyle, body mass index, and socio-economic status, the study concluded. “Of the metabolic syndrome components, poor breakfast habits at age 16 years predicted central obesity and high fasting glucose at age 43 years.”

According to the study, between 10 and 30 percent of children and adolescents in the U.S. and Europe do not eat breakfast. Since the study indicates that skipping breakfast is associated with metabolic syndrome and unhealthy habits later in life, the researchers called for further research and evaluations of the effects of school breakfast programs on health later in life.

In addition to breakfast programs, schools could also use their position in a manner the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advocates. The CDC states that schools are capable of providing proper nutrition to students, and are uniquely situated to educate young adults about how to make healthy choices. Nutrition should be built into the health education curriculum, and as studies about how early life choices impact adult health become available, they should be folded into the teaching materials.

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