The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

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

How Important is Breakfast?

How Important is Breakfast?

Health and Wellness

July 25, 2010

Children and adolescents that eat breakfast have healthier nutrient profiles and a lower prevalence of obesity as compared to their non-breakfast eating counterparts, according to a recent study from Baylor College of Medicine, Louisiana State University AgCenter and Texas Woman’s University, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. The study looked at cross-sectional data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1996-2006) from 9,600 children and teens between the ages of nine and 18.

What makes this study unique from other breakfast consumption studies is that it examines the relationship between breakfast skipping and the kind of breakfast consumed, using nutrient intake, nutrient adequacy and waistline measurements. 

Overall, 20% of children were breakfast skippers, 35.9% consumed ready-to-eat cereals, and 44% consumed other kinds of breakfast. For teens, 32% skipped breakfast, 25.3% consumed ready-to-eat cereals, and 43.2% consumed other breakfast. White teens and children were less likely to skip breakfast than teens and children from other groups; few sex differences were found.

Children that ate ready-to-eat cereals had higher intakes of vitamins A, C, B-6 and B-12; thiamin; riboflavin; niacin; folate; calcium; phosphorous; magnesium; iron; zinc; and potassium. Compared to breakfast skippers, children eating other kinds of breakfast had lower intakes of the aforementioned vitamins and minerals, but higher intakes of sodium. In teens, ready-to-eat cereal consumers had lower sugar intakes, lower saturated fat intakes, higher fiber intakes, and higher intakes of vitamins and minerals.

Although past studies voiced concerns about added sugars from ready-to-eat cereals, this study actually found that percentages of energy from carbohydrate and total sugars were higher in ready-to-eat cereal consumers than in breakfast skippers or those who ate a breakfast other than cereal. And eating ready-to-eat cereal as a regular breakfast option might even be more beneficial than eating other kinds of breakfast.

“Lack of time is a major barrier cited for failure to consume breakfast, especially in teens. Ready-to-eat cereals can be prepared ‘quickly’ – just pour from the box and add milk. It’s hard to get easier than that. Actually, ready-to-eat cereal can also be consumed out of hand for an even quicker breakfast. Ease of ‘preparation’ also makes ready-to-eat cereal an appealing food for use in the School Breakfast Program,” says study co-author Dr. Carol E. O'Neil, Director, Didactic Program in Dietetics at Louisiana State University.

O’Neil adds that studies have shown that children and teens that skip breakfast do not make up the nutrients lost by not consuming breakfast at other meals. It's also important to note, she says, that one barrier to breakfast consumption often seen in teenage girls is that they want to lose weight and think that skipping meals will help. Studies have repeatedly shown that consuming breakfast is associated with lower body weight.

Indeed, breakfast skippers in this study had a higher body mass index (BMI) than those that ate ready-to-eat cereal; those that ate ready-to-eat cereal had a lower BMI than those that eat other kinds of breakfast. In addition, breakfast skippers had a higher waist circumference than breakfast eaters, and a higher prevalence of obesity. Interestingly, the prevalence of obesity was also higher for those consuming other kinds of breakfast over ready-to-eat cereals.

“Studies over time have suggested that the percentage of older children and teens skipping breakfast is growing,” says O’Neil. “There are many healthy breakfast foods and breakfast meals available to children and teens. Ready-to-eat cereal is one healthful option.”

O’Neil says retailers can help communicate this information to consumers by providing attractive displays with healthful breakfast foods at eye level. Other options for improved communications on the breakfast topic include providing flyers or cards with information about eating breakfast and good choices, in-store coupons for breakfast foods – such as a combined coupon for ready-to-eat cereal and milk or ready-to-eat cereal and bananas, and in-store PA announcements. Groups of grocers could also work with local Registered Dietitians and have them provide information about breakfast, or work with customers in the stores. 

“Breakfast consumption, as well as ready-to-eat cereal consumption, has been associated with lower body weight, higher overall nutrient intake, and better school performance. That said, consumption of no one meal, and no one food, is enough to stay healthy. A healthy breakfast should be consumed as part of an overall healthy diet,” says O’Neil.