Medical News Today: Does skipping breakfast really lead to overeating?

woman eating a bowl of cereal
Researchers suggest that skipping breakfast may not cause us to overeat later in the day.
Juggling the demands of modern life can leave little time for breakfast, despite it being hailed as the most important meal of the day. But contrary to previous research, a new study suggests that skipping breakfast may not necessarily cause us to eat more later on.

The study, which involved 40 teenage girls, found that participants consumed more than 350 fewer calories on days when they missed breakfast, compared with the days when they ate breakfast.

Lead study author Dr. Julia Zakrzewski-Fruer, of the University of Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom, and colleagues say that their results challenge previous research suggesting that skipping breakfast may lead to overeating later in the day.

The researchers recently reported their findings in the British Journal of Nutrition.

For many, having breakfast is a major part of our daily routine. For others, those extra few minutes in bed are preferable to a slice of toast or a bowl of cereal. In fact, a 2015 survey found that only 47 percent of people in the United States eat breakfast every day.

But what effect does skipping breakfast have on our health? Previous research has linked breakfast omission to poorer heart health, while other studies have suggested that missing a morning meal may lead to overeating and increase a person’s risk of obesity.

For this latest study, Dr. Zakrzewski-Fruer and colleagues sought to find out more about the latter.

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Fewer calories after skipping breakfast

The study included 40 girls aged 11–15 years. Each subject was required to participate in two 3-day breakfast conditions. In one condition, participants consumed a standard, low glycemic index (GI) breakfast, which contained 468 calories. In the other condition, participants did not eat breakfast.

Dr. Zakrzewski-Fruet and team say that the aim of their research was to “examine the effect of 3 consecutive days of breakfast consumption compared with breakfast omission on free-living energy intake and physical activity in adolescent girls.”

As part of the study, each participant was required to keep a food diary, and their physical activity levels were monitored with an accelerometer.

The researchers found that on days when participants missed breakfast, they consumed a total of 353 fewer calories than on days when they ate breakfast.

Breakfast consumption appeared to have no influence on physical activity levels, the team reports.

While the team’s study cannot prove how skipping breakfast influences food intake and weight, the researchers believe that it does raise questions about the presumed benefits of eating breakfast.

“There are many reports,” says study co-author Dr. Keith Tolfrey, of Loughborough University in the U.K, “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 adds, “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.”

“[…] further research will help to determine whether daily breakfast consumption can be used as an intervention to reduce future disease risk in young people,” concludes Dr. Tolfrey.

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