Does skipping breakfast really matter? It’s complicated

The main reason to feed kids breakfast is to maintain some control over what they're eating.

The main reason to feed kids breakfast is to maintain some control over what they're eating. Photo: Getty

There are some basic rules to life that get drummed into children: Look both ways before crossing the road, don’t talk to strangers, and breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

There’s evidence that children who don’t eat breakfast are more likely to be less physically active and have a lower cardio respiratory fitness level – because they tend to get fat on processed snacks, and because they don’t have as much ready energy to burn.

And there’s evidence that a healthy breakfast (including some protein for sustained energy release) has a positive effect on learning, thinking and behaviour.

The benefits have been mostly demonstrated in children from poor homes fed charity breakfasts. It’s not the time of day that counts the most: It’s getting fed.

The main benefit of feeding your children breakfast (a bowl of oats will do it) is having some control over what they’re putting in their mouths.


We’ve always been told breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Photo: Getty

Fatty, sweet and salty snacks are ruinous as a staple: That’s another rule that’s occasionally mentioned to children to little effect.

That one in seven Australian children skip breakfast is a matter of concern. Because it suggests they’re getting their energy needs from rubbish.

What matters most is what your kids are eating overall through the day.

You’ve heard it all before: Whole grains, fruit and vegetables, some low-fat protein and a dollop of healthy fat for the brain.

Does skipping breakfast matter?

A new study suggests that adults who skip breakfast “are likely to miss out on key nutrients that are most abundant in the foods that make up morning meals”.

This finding came from data on more than 30,000 American adults.

Those who skipped breakfast missed out on calcium in milk, vitamin C in fruit, and the fibre, vitamins and minerals found in fortified cereals – and were likely to “remain low on those nutrients for the entire day”.

The researchers found people who skipped breakfast tended to have a very different nutritional profile than those who did eat a morning meal.

The skippers tended to fall short, overall, in meeting the threshold of nutritional eating.

“What we’re seeing is that if you don’t eat the foods that are commonly consumed at breakfast, you have a tendency not to eat them the rest of the day. So those common breakfast nutrients become a nutritional gap,” Dr Christopher Taylor said, professor of medical dietetics in the College of Medicine at The Ohio State University and senior author of the study.

The study was funded by the American Dairy Association Mideast.

The data represented a single day in each participant’s life – meaning we can’t conclude that participants always skipped breakfast, but this was apparently a representative sample of the national population.

The researchers note that many breakfast foods are fortified with minerals and vitamins and other micronutrients.

They say this replaces nutrients “that are lost in the refining process”. Which suggests processed cereals aren’t so good for you.

What this study really tells us that some people subscribe to poor nutrition around the clock, not just in the morning.

So breakfast isn’t the most important meal of the day?

It makes intuitive sense to have some fuel in the tank before launching head long into a busy day.

But there are intermittent fasters who skip breakfast as part of a diet plan that might be beneficial to their health.

Some will make up for skipping breakfast with healthy eating. Others won’t.

The bottom line for adults is the same as it is for kids: It’s what you eat overall through the day that matters most.

Topics: diet, Health
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