Researchers at Umea University in Sweden found that
teens who reported eating no breakfast or only sweets were
two-thirds more likely to develop a cluster of risk factors linked
to heart disease and diabetes when they were in their 40s than their
peers who ate more substantial morning meals.
"It may be that eating breakfast aids in keeping to a healthier diet
the rest of the day," the study's lead author, Maria Wennberg, told
Reuters Health in an email.
Kids who miss breakfast experience hunger surges and tend to overeat
later in the day, Dr. David Ludwig, a pediatrics and nutrition
researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, said.
He was not involved in the current study.
Wennberg and her colleagues reviewed data from 889 people in Lulea,
Sweden. In 1981, when they were 16 years old, the participants
completed questionnaires about what they ate for breakfast on a
Researchers then examined them in 2008, when they were 43 years old,
for metabolic syndrome, a collection of risk factors that can lead
to heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
They found that 27 percent had developed signs of the syndrome,
according to the study published in Public Health Nutrition.
Moreover, those who reported missing breakfast or eating a
poor-quality one as a teenager were 68 percent more likely to have
metabolic syndrome in middle age.
When the researchers analyzed separate components of the syndrome,
they found that obesity and high blood-sugar levels at age 43 were
linked with poor breakfast habits at age 16.
About 35 percent of U.S. adults have metabolic syndrome, according
to the American Heart Association. In addition to a large waistline
and high blood sugar, components of the syndrome include high blood
pressure and low "good" cholesterol.
Past studies found links between higher quality diets and healthier
lifestyles, the authors write. Poor breakfast habits may therefore
be part of an unhealthy lifestyle.
The authors noted the study's limitations, including that the 1981
questionnaire asked teens only about a single day's breakfast. They
also did not know the participants' adult breakfast habits.
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Wennberg called for more research on the link between adolescent
breakfast habits and middle-age disease as well as for studies
evaluating the benefits of school-breakfast programs "both because
of effects on metabolic health and because of effects on academic
"This may especially be of value in areas with socioeconomic
disadvantage," she said.
Ludwig agreed, citing the benefits of a healthy breakfast on
physical health as well as on thinking skills and academic
performance. But he questioned the quality of the
government-subsidized or free breakfasts that millions of American
children currently receive at school.
"The rule is these breakfasts are cheap, low quality and of
potentially marginal benefit," he told Reuters Health. "This is a
tremendous missed opportunity."
An ideal breakfast would include protein, healthy fat and a source
of carbohydrates like fruit or vegetables or minimally processed
grain, he said.
The amount of money available for the federally-funded U.S. School
Breakfast Program "is woefully inadequate," and "the nutritional
standards are archaic," Ludwig said.
"In some cases, the schools have virtually outsourced the kitchen to
the fast-food industry," he said.
He noted that the U.S. Senate this week sent to President Barack
Obama a bill to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,
commonly known as food stamps, by about $900 million a year, or
roughly 1 percent. About half of food stamp recipients are children.
Health Nutrition, online Jan. 28, 2014.
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