Health & Wellbeing

New meta-study concludes breakfast is not the most important meal of the day

New meta-study concludes break...
Collecting data from 13 different trials, a meta-analysis found skipping breakfast does not lead to weight gain or energy expenditure alterations
Collecting data from 13 different trials, a meta-analysis found skipping breakfast does not lead to weight gain or energy expenditure alterations
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Collecting data from 13 different trials, a meta-analysis found skipping breakfast does not lead to weight gain or energy expenditure alterations
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Collecting data from 13 different trials, a meta-analysis found skipping breakfast does not lead to weight gain or energy expenditure alterations

You may have grown up constantly hearing that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It was claimed to kick-start your metabolism and reduce over-eating later in the day, ultimately helping maintain a healthy weight. Recent research, however, has raised doubts over the veracity of this commonly held belief, and a new meta-analysis has concluded there is no good evidence to suggest eating breakfast promotes weight loss or improves metabolic rates later in the day.

The meta-study gathered data from 13 separate randomized control trials, all conducted to compare the effects of eating breakfast and skipping breakfast in adults. The results were pretty clear with the breakfast groups eating, on average, 260 calories more per day than those that skipped breakfast. Those that skipped breakfast also weighed an average of one pound (0.44 kg) less than their breakfast eating counterparts.

Of the studies included in the review that examined metabolic rates and hormone levels associated with appetite regulation, the data revealed no significant difference between breakfast consumers and breakfast skippers. Two studies examining changes in diet-induced thermogenesis, the metabolic process in which your body converts calories to heat, also found virtually no differences between the two groups.

All of this evidence adds up to a reasonably confident conclusion that breakfast consumption does not promote weight loss or play a major role in altering energy expenditure across the day. In fact, the researchers suggest that eating breakfast may, in some cases, have the opposite effect and hinder weight loss plans.

"Although eating breakfast regularly could have other important effects, such as improved concentration and attentiveness levels in childhood, caution is needed when recommending breakfast for weight loss in adults, as it could have the opposite effect," the researchers conclude in the published article.

But why then has such as strong anecdotal history built up around the idea of breakfast being so beneficial and important? Almost every major governmental health body around the world recommends breakfast as important and advises people to avoid skipping it.

Tim Spector, from King's College London, examines this very question in an opinion piece published in coordination with the new research. Spector suggests the idea that breakfast is important may stem from the classic causation/correlation problem that haunts the vast majority of observational research. While epidemiological studies may often show that, in general populations, people who skip breakfast tend to be more overweight and eat more later in the day, this does not mean skipping breakfast actively causes those subsequent effects.

"People who skipped breakfast were more likely on average to be poorer, less educated, less healthy, and to have a generally poorer diet," Spector writes. "Overweight people were more likely to try and diet, and after a binge were more likely to feel guilty and skip a meal."

Some research is affirming that large caloric intakes late in the evening can be unhealthy. So, certainly, skipping breakfast and having a big dinner late at night is not an ideal strategy, but it is becoming increasingly clear that breakfast, in and of itself, is not as important as we previously suspected. Spector does note that every individual's biological make up is different, so there is no "one size fits all" piece of advice regarding breakfast.

"Around a third of people in developed countries regularly skip breakfast, whereas many others (including myself) enjoy it," Spector writes. "This does not mean that all overweight people would benefit from skipping breakfast. Some people are programmed to prefer eating food earlier in the day and others later, which might suit our unique personal metabolism."

The new study was published in the journal BMJ.

Source: The BMJ via SciMex

9 comments
paul314
Statistically speaking, breakfast must have some kind of correlation with metabolic rate (or level of activity), because a pound is roughly 3500 calories. So if the breakfast eaters consumed 260 calories a day more than the non-breakfast-eaters, that extra pound of weight they carry on average would appear within two weeks. And then continue growing. Roughly 26 extra pounds the first year, another 26 the second, and so on.
amazed W1
I like Paul314's comment, it looks very probable, but it does depend on whether the breakfast skippers eat more or less than the breakfast eaters at the next mealtime. But as far as children's concentration is concerned, ask any teacher what they think. In the search for everything from dyslexia to autism or organic hearing/speaking difficulties, lack of energy and concentration is the observed fact but if the class is not as oversized as is common, the observation is usually closely followed by assessing who in this group has and who has not had breakfast.
Aross
Don't know why it is so important to determine weight gain or loss. From my experience whether I ate or did not eat breakfast had no real effect on my weight but it sure had an effect on my energy levels. Besides breakfast skippers usually go out and eat larger lunches which may or may not have been healthy.
jonathx
I have never heard this folk saying used to justify any of the claims this article disproves. I'd always thought it was called the most important meal of the day because without it you'll have trouble concentrating and getting labor-intensive work done (things people actually would've actually cared about in my grandparents' generation), not because it'll magically help you lose weight...
Mike Kling
When dieting, I usually don't break fast until I'm actually hungry. Usually about lunch time. Works for me.
ljaques
When I was an active worker (auto mechanic, handyman building decks) breakfast was an absolute must. Otherwise, I'd be out of gas and shaking by 9:30 or 10am, and a snack+lunch wouldn't bring me back to a strong afternoon work period. Now that I'm retired, I eat smaller breakfasts, but i still need them. I wonder how many athletes, firemen, lumberjacks, weightlifters, and miners were included in the datasets. Also missing was data on deep thinkers and school kids. Brains need breakfast, too. Also not mentioned were the studies on fasting, which plays havoc on the body and can be counter intuitive on dieting, forcing the body into storing fat. Why are these incomplete "studies" being published without more info?
Imran Sheikh
Human body is the most energy efficient machine ever, we require very less amount of energy compared to other mammals. The simple logic is you should be hungry before you eat another meal else you will have acidity and thats really really bad. If your routine is really energy consuming like you operate heavy machinery or work on farm or similar, then only you should have breakfast else skip it and have a early lunch and stay healthy. Furthermore they will tell you this after another Decade of research which i am telling you now "Human body do not need a Full Meal Dinner" which means in the dinner we need a very little amount of food example a two egg sandwich or similar (it depends upon your weight to height ratio it will increase or decrease). "For good health you should wake up hungry in the morning" - Imran Sheikh
sdl701
As always, the outcome is utterly dependent on study design. If the subjects ate the same amount for lunch and supper as the controls, and differed only in the presence or absence of breakfast, then of course the breakfast eaters would consume more calories and weigh more. To be meaningful, the authors needed to control -- or at least measure accurately and report -- the calorie consumption over the day's remaining meals and/or snacks. Otherwise, garbage in -- garbage out, and this study is meaningless. Anecdotally, eating a good breakfast may allow for a smaller lunch, or skipping lunch entirely, which might increase productivity by reducing the need for a midday break and reducing the mid-afternoon sinking spell that so many people experience.
riggarob
I've had this argument with people since I was 10 years old. As a kid I was forced to eat breakfast and hated it. When I went in the Marine Corps I was forced to eat breakfast, and hated it even more. Later on in life, after I got out of the Marine Corps in 1972, I realized that I'm one of a small group in the worlds population that is what's called a night owl. My genetic code is such that I am completely incompatible with the day time, and do my best work at night. Ergo, working in a shoe shop after High School classes until 11 p.m., night Patrols in Vietnam and then working the 3 to 11 shift my entire life for the DOD. I'm now 70, and have been retired for 15 years. I still do not eat breakfast! As soon as I eat breakfast all I want to do is crawl up in a corner and go back to sleep. Now that I'm older and have to take some meds in the morning, I might have a half a banana and a glass of juice. I've always had just a glass of juice, but my wife forces the banana on me. It does help me to avoid having an upset stomach in the morning with the medication. But I will repeat, breakfast is not for everyone! Semper Fi..... p.s. just so everyone knows, this has never had an effect on my weight, my weight has been stable pretty much my entire life. P. P. S. Whenever I have gained weight it's because I've been on a medication. My eating habits never change, but as most people know prednisone and it's ilk will make you gain weight no matter how hard you try not to.