Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. At least that’s been mainstream nutrition thinking for a long time. It makes sense; you haven’t eaten anything for hours, your body is starved for nutrients, and you need the energy to get your day started. Breakfast is even credited with aiding weight loss goals.
When you eat breakfast, you’re less likely to binge on calories later in the day. Is any of this advice backed up by real proof? Is breakfast the most important meal of the day for weight loss? Luckily, there are plenty of studies looking into these exact questions!
What does the research say about breakfast and weight loss?
Study 1. In a 2008 analysis of 2,216 adolescents, researchers examined the long term effects of breakfast eating and changes in body weight over a five year period. Project Eating Among Teens (EAT) studied eating patterns through surveys between 1998 and 2004. The study documented eating behaviors, body weight changes, socioeconomic status, and physical activity.
After multiple analyses, researchers concluded breakfast eating frequency was inversely related with body weight. In other words, participants who ate breakfast most frequently had lower body weights than those who ate breakfast less frequently1.
Study 2. Another study done in 2010 looked at the relationship between breakfast skipping & type of breakfast consumed with nutrient intake and body weight. This study used data on over 9,000 children and adolescents. Twenty percent of children and 31.5% of adolescents skipped breakfast.
The children and adolescents that ate breakfast had higher mean adequacy ratios (ratio of nutrient intake to recommended daily allowance) for micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Breakfast eaters also had lower body weights and waist circumferences than breakfast skippers2.
Study 3. In the final study, researchers looked into the eating habits of 1,655 Spanish adults from the ANIBES Study. They wanted to examine the breakfast habits (over three days) of the individuals to assess whether there was an association between breakfast eating and obesity.
Participants were classified into three groups based on their breakfast habits: 1) never eat breakfast 0 out of 3 days, 2) sometimes – 1 or 2 out of every 3 days, and, 3) always – 3/3 days3.
Of all the participants, 3.6% skipped breakfast, 14% ate breakfast sometimes, and 82% always ate breakfast. The group that reported always eating breakfast had the lowest obesity rates. The group that always skipped breakfast had higher obesity rates than the other two groups3.
The Bottom Line – Is breakfast necessary?
The research does suggest a correlation between eating breakfast and lower body weights. The studies above found those who skipped breakfast generally weighed more than those who ate breakfast. There are plenty of possible reasons why skipping breakfast is correlated with higher body weights.
Perhaps those who eat breakfast are simply healthier individuals who also exercise and monitor calorie intake throughout the day. It’s also possible eating breakfast increases satiety and decreases subsequent calorie intake for the rest of the day. Breakfast, however, does have an important role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and promoting a healthy body weight.
- Timlin, M. T., & Pereira, M. A. (2008). Breakfast Eating and Weight Change in a 5-Year Prospective Analysis of Adolescents: Project EAT (Eating Among Teens). Pediatrics, 121(3). doi:10.1542/peds.2007-1035
- Deshmukh-Taskar, P. R., & Nicklas, T. A. (2010). The Relationship of Breakfast Skipping and Type of Breakfast Consumption with Nutrient Intake and Weight Status in Children and Adolescents: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2006. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 110(6), 869-878. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2010.03.023
- Navia, B., & López-Sobaler, A. M. (2017). Breakfast habits and differences regarding abdominal obesity in a cross-sectional study in Spanish adults: The ANIBES study. Plos One, 12(11). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0188828