The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Breakfast Fights Obesity

Breakfast Fights Obesity

Health and Wellness

August 30, 2009

We all know that a good breakfast can help set the tone for the day, boosting performance at both work and school, and improving overall health. New research suggests that your teenager’s daily bowl of cereal could also provide considerable protection against obesity later in life. 

Many studies have looked at the connection between breakfast and health, but researchers at Oklahoma State University honed in on breakfast’s relationship to weight outcomes in young adulthood. They found that an adolescent’s regular consumption of breakfast decreased his or her chances for chronic obesity by 41%. Furthermore, chronic obesity was associated with a decreased likelihood of regular breakfast consumption by 25%.

“Eating breakfast during the teenage years had such important implications for adult health, particularly weight status and obesity,” says Dr. Michael Merten, Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Science at OSU. “Adolescents who eat breakfast are more likely to eat breakfast as young adults and are less likely to be chronically obese. In fact, teens who eat breakfast are less likely to be chronically obese even if they don’t eat breakfast as adults, suggesting the enduring power of regular breakfast consumption during the teenage years.”

Interestingly, teenagers are more likely to eat breakfast when their parents are home in the morning, and this habit continues into adulthood. This finding is consistent with other research demonstrating the positive influence of parental presence on shaping long-term healthy behaviors and improving family dietary profiles. Sixty-four percent of participants reported having a parent home in the morning, but 26% said they rarely or never had a parent present at that time.

“Families who share meals together are generally healthier. This provides parents opportunities to prepare breakfast, help teens make good choices when they are fixing their own meal, and model healthy eating practices,” says Merten.

Additionally, as seen in other studies, community disadvantage was detrimental to adolescent breakfast consumption, decreasing its likelihood by 15%. Unfortunately, urban sprawl and limited access to food outlets, among other factors, continue to negatively affect the health outcomes of those in disadvantaged communities. For every one percent increase in community disadvantage, individuals were 1.5 times more likely to be obese in adolescence and adulthood.

African Americans were less likely than whites to eat breakfast in adolescence and young adulthood, and significantly more likely to be chronically obese. Females were more likely than males to eat breakfast in young adulthood, and therefore, 32% less likely than males to be chronically obese. A total of 12.3% of participants were obese in this study based on their adolescent and young adulthood BMIs.

“There are several important factors that deter regular breakfast consumption among youth,” says Merten. “If something can be done to get these teens to eat breakfast, they will be more likely to continue the healthy habit as adults and, in turn, are less likely to be obese.”

The positive nutrition-related outcomes associated with eating breakfast are indisputable, however, breakfast consumption is actually on the decline among American youth. In 1965, 84% of teenage girls and 90% of teenage boys reported eating breakfast regularly. In 1991, those figures dropped to 75% and 65%, respectively. And consumption tends to decrease as children get older.

“Making breakfast a quick, accessible choice may be the key to promoting breakfast among teens – a challenge that falls to other interested parties such as schools, food marketers, and retailers,” says Merten.

One thing retailers can do to help parents promote breakfast consumption is to encourage them to join their kids at mealtime. Since school breakfast programs are often underutilized by those that need them most, communities must also make an effort to promote these programs in interesting and creative ways.

“Mid-morning snack bars and breakfast in classrooms are unique opportunities to provide students with nutritious choices at a time and place when they are ready and willing to take part,” says Merten.

It would seem a more integrated approach is needed with schools, parents, and retailers working together to make breakfast an easy, convenient, and healthy choice. There is a huge opportunity for retailers to market quick and easy breakfast items that students can access at school, on-the-go, and consume quickly so they can get back to what they would rather be doing. Parents can help raise awareness too, both at home and school.

Merten adds, “The easiest way for parents to ensure their children have a head start on a day’s supply of energy and nutrients is to make the time to sit down and share a morning meal with them.”