Skipping breakfast does not appear to lead to overeating later in the day, contrary to popular opinion, according to UK researchers.
They found girls who skipped breakfast as part of a study into energy intake and physical activity consumed 350 fewer calories (kcals) a day.
“Around one third of children and adolescents in many countries skip breakfast regularly”
The researchers looked at the eating and physical activity habits of 40 teenage girls – aged 11 to 15 – over three days and how the omission of breakfast affected their daily energy intake.
Their dietary intakes were assessed using food diaries combined with digital photographic records, said the study authors.
The girls ate, on average, an extra 115 calories, when they missed breakfast compared to when they ate a standard early meal of 56.3g Weetabix, 188mL semi-skimmed milk and 375mL orange juice.
However, the researchers also calculated that the standard breakfast provided to the girls contained 468 calories, so the net intake in one day was minus 353 calories when they skipped breakfast.
The study authors stated: “Breakfast manipulation did not affect post-breakfast macronutrient intakes or time spent sedentary or in physical activity.
“In this sample of adolescent girls, breakfast omission increased post-breakfast free-living energy intake, but total daily energy intake was greater when a standard breakfast was consumed,” they said.
“We can’t definitively say how breakfast is linked to weight status and health”
Dr Keith Tolfrey, of Loughborough University, who co-authored the study paper, suggested that the research showed that eating breakfast increased total energy intake in girls over the short term and, therefore, the link between eating breakfast and weight maintenance still required further work.
He said: “There is a common belief that breakfast is the ‘most important meal of the day’. However, around one third of children and adolescents in many countries skip breakfast regularly.
“There are many reports that show missing breakfast is associated with obesity, which may have led to premature assumptions that breakfast can be used as an intervention for weight control,” he said.
“But we do not know why eating breakfast is associated with a lower likelihood of being overweight or obese, or whether eating breakfast can be used effectively as a weight control strategy,” he noted.
The research was a joint project between Loughborough and the University of Bedfordshire, and was published in the British Journal of Nutrition earlier this month.
Skipping breakfast ‘does not lead to overeating later in day’
Lead author Dr Julia Zakrzewski-Fruer, from Bedfordshire, said the paper’s findings supported the small number of experimental studies which looked at one day of breakfast omission.
Such studies found that missing breakfast was linked to lower energy intake, which questions why young people who eat breakfast regularly are less likely to be overweight or obese, she said.
But Dr Zakrzewski-Fruer added: “It’s worth noting that, due to the limited evidence base, we can’t definitively say how breakfast is linked to weight status and health.
“Further research will help to determine whether daily breakfast consumption can be used as an intervention to reduce future disease risk in young people,” she said.