Let’s Ask Marion: Does Breakfast Really Matter?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

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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it is great to hear from the doctor about the importance of the breakfast. Thanks for sharing, let's follow the great advice :) Kameer from Resorts 360

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Of course breakfast matters.

Of course breakfast matters. A well-rounded, nutritious breakfast will give you the energy you need to take on the day, and it helps you eat less throughout the day as well.

Take it from me... I used to get up and go, but now I take a few extra minutes in the morning to eat breakfast. Boy, do I feel the difference!

As for my boy, who is 4, I force him to eat breakfast even when he's not hungry. He starts school at 12, which works out with our schedules better.

To skip bearkfast it is no

To skip bearkfast it is no big deal. If know how to eat. I had a friend that every day when he got up he just put 50ml of vodka in a glass and that was it. And we has a very goo worker. Too bad that one day he realised he had a alcohol problem and he went to a Alcohol Rehab center. And now he wakes up and just does not eat or drink anything.

I disagree with this article

BMI is not the only thing to consider with respect to eating breakfast. Here are the results of an independent study from the European Journal of Nutrition (2003):

Results: Parental breakfast eating was the statistically most significant factor associated with adolescent breakfast eating. Smoking, infrequent exercise, a low education level at 16, female sex, frequent alcohol use, behavioral disinhibition, and high body mass index (BMI) were significantly associated with adolescent breakfast skipping. In adults, smoking, infrequent exercise, low education level, male sex, higher BMI, and more frequent alcohol use were associated with breakfast skipping. In the adult sample, older individuals had breakfast more often than younger ones. Both adults and adolescents who frequently skipped breakfast were much more likely to exercise very little compared to those who skipped breakfast infrequently. Breakfast skipping was associated with low family socioeconomic status in adults and adolescent boys, but not in girls. Breakfast skipping clustered moderately with smoking, alcohol use, and sedentary lifestyle in both adults and adolescents.

As you can see, skipping breakfast is correlated with a whole host of unhealthy behaviors besides obesity. Principle among them: Parents who eat breakfast have children who eat breakfast. If you think they will do what you say and not what you do, you are bitterly mistaken.

Doling out advice based on the results of one study strikes me as irresponsible, particularly when one considers that the vast majority of scientific inquiry into this study have concluded the opposite of this articles claims. Below are links to two studies which contradict this post, don't take my word for it, inform yourselves:

First study

Second study

Skipping Breakfast

I do agree that adults ought to eat when they're hungry, generally. But eating every so many hours is good if you need to keep your blood sugar on an even keel in order to avoid Diabetes or the reverse, Hypoglycemia. So it really does depend on the individual. Making sure to eat balanced meals each time is most important, I believe!

Kids eating breakfast

As a mom, my reaction to this news is, yeah, but how do we get them to eat the breakfast? My kid is four and doesn't know he's hungry until he's absolutely famished. I have quit asking him if he is hungry, I just cook something and put it in his vicinity and leave it there until it is gone.

My best success stories: I stew really good organic raisins and cinnamon, then add thick-cut oatmeal, then top that with milk, all served in a special dish. The raisins provide all the sweetening that is needed. I offer this conglomeration thusly: "here are your raisins!" (I get my own special dish for my raisins too - my beautiful raku bowl.)

The other success, once a kid puts down bedding and feed, gathers eggs, cracks them, stirs them, and pours them into a pan, they WILL eat the scrambled eggs that result.

The same line of thinking, of involving the kid in the work and the decisions, works for helping in the garden, or for getting to be the one that picks the produce out from the food co-op. Once a kid is excited about the beauty of dinosaur kale or red cabbage in the store, gets to purchase it, and help prepare it, whammo! Down the chute! Healthy kid.

I don't know how all of this works for teenagers, but I aim to find out.

I know all of my own food troubles began when my family started to spend less time together because of work. I was very lonely. I ate. I gained weight, some of which I still have.

Good luck, parents, thank you, kat and Dr. Marion!

Is it possible that those

Is it possible that those who tended to be overweight were dishonest in the survey? If I were self-conscious about my weight, I might be tempted to say I skipped breakfast often, to make it appear that I eat less.

I know this is a stretch, and that the surveys were anonymous, but people can lie to themselves about what and when they eat.

Just a thought.