A study recently collected data about daily food consumption from US children in order to investigate the nutritional consequences of skipping breakfast.
Several studies in the past have investigated the importance of eating breakfast in individuals of all age groups. Among youth, the habit of skipping breakfast is cause for concern since daily nutrient intake plays a pivotal role in growth and development. Increased demands for growth require more energy, or calories, and research has shown that children who skip breakfast do not compensate for it by eating more later in the day. Skipping breakfast may affect the child’s academic performance as overall engagement and cognitive abilities may be compromised due to low blood glucose.
A recent study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, set out to collect data and observe nutrient, energy, and food group intake from 8,590 children in the US. Of those, 3,443 were ages 2-5 years old, while 5,147 children were 6-12 years old. All of the data was based on self-reports or parental reports of the child’s food intake on a single day.
Skipping Breakfast Linked to Poor Nutrition
The older children were three times more likely to skip breakfast suggesting that habits for breakfast consumption be formed at an earlier age. Overall the kids had similar intakes in terms of types of foods but significant differences were reported. Overall, the children who skipped breakfast had increased energy intake from foods with added sugars, suggesting overall lower nutrient density. Furthermore, the intake of several key nutrients such as vitamin A, calcium, fibre, iron, folate, protein, carbohydrates, and fats were all lower in the children who did not eat breakfast. Essentially they were missing an opportunity for nutrient intake by skipping breakfast and as a result, were eating insufficient amounts of nutrient-dense foods.
A potential underlying factor to the act of skipping breakfast is socioeconomic status, as food access may be limited to many children in the US. The children who don’t eat breakfast tended to rely more heavily on snacks that did not provide the adequate nutrition they need. The concern is also that poor eating habits early in life could lead to worse adult nutrition and potentially obesity and all the health risks that come with improper weight management.
Strategies Required to Promote a Healthy Breakfast
The study suggests that professionals and parents should consider intervening and creating strategies for promoting breakfast consumption at early ages. If children don’t eat breakfast between ages of 2-5 it is fair to assume they will continue to skip breakfast throughout their childhood and adolescence. An alternative could potentially be increasing intake of food throughout the day in children who skip breakfast to make up for the lost meal and nutrients and limiting the amount of snack foods they rely on.
One limitation of the study is that the data was all collected from a single day of food consumption. There is no way of determining if the reported day was a typical day for that child or perhaps there was a reason they did or didn’t skip breakfast on that day.
It would also be interesting to see what sorts of behaviours or attributes may be potentially causing children to choose to not eat breakfast. Is there a fundamental difference in the types of children who eat breakfast and who do not? Or does it simply come down to parental habits and food access?
Further research is needed on the reasons that influence the behaviour and strategies for improving the overall nutritional status of youth in the US in order to mitigate nutrition-related issues in adulthood and improve both their physical and cognitive growth and development.
Written by Elena Popadic
Reference: Ramsay, S., Bloch, T., Marriage, B., Shriver, L., Spees, C., & Taylor, C. (2018). Skipping breakfast is associated with lower diet quality in young US children. European Journal Of Clinical Nutrition. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41430-018-0084-3