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Let’s Ask Marion: Does Breakfast Really Matter?
Submitted by KAT on Thu, 03/27/2008 - 11:00am.
Kat: When it comes to the importance of eating breakfast, you are an unrepentant (and enviably slender) breakfast-skipper, believing that what we eat matters far more than when we eat.
So what's your take on the article in Tuesday's NY Times, "Skipping Cereal and Eggs, and Packing on Pounds," which cites a study showing that "the more often adolescents eat breakfast, the less likely they are to be overweight"?
Dr. Nestle: I read the original paper in Pediatrics, and you can too by clicking HERE. The excellent research team from the University of Minnesota asked a simple question of 4,700 middle- and high-school students: “During the past week, how many days did you eat breakfast?” The researchers correlated the answers, which ranged from 0 to 7 days per week, with the kids’ BMIs. They did a follow-up 5 years later, capturing about half the original respondents. As the New York Times reported, the kids who ate breakfast were thinner to begin with and gained less weight than those who didn’t.
I’m not at all surprised by these results. Nutritionists always say kids need to eat breakfast and I do too. There are loads of studies that correlate breakfast-eating with better learning and general health. Many of these were funded by cereal companies, but no matter. I believe the results. What I’m less sure about is whether the results have anything to do with breakfast itself or with education, wealth, and other markers of socioeconomic status. Breakfast-eating is a marker for a lot of other family characteristics. The Minnesota researchers know this. They point out that studies generally find that kids “who skipped breakfast on a daily basis had a higher BMI, were older, nonwhite, and from a lower SES.” Breakfast eaters, in contrast, eat better diets and are more physically active. So breakfast-eating tracks with other healthful practices in kids.
But what about adults? As I keep saying, one of the great things about being an adult is that you get to eat what you want when you want to. I, for one, gave up eating breakfast as soon as I could get away with it. I don’t start getting hungry or even remotely interested in food until 11:00 or so in the morning and that’s when I want to eat—not before. I wrote about this in What to Eat and cannot count the number of not-hungry-in-the-morning types who have thanked me for taking the pressure off. If adults ate only when they felt hungry and didn’t eat when they didn’t feel hungry, weight control would come a lot easier.
But kids going to school? That’s another matter. The Minnesota researchers did not fuss much about what the kids were eating as long as they were eating at all, but it breaks my heart to see kids eating sodas and chips first thing in the morning. We need to do a lot better job of making sure that kids eat decently, a health practice that tracks with all kinds of health behaviors and learning.
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