Myth: Eating Breakfast Will Prevent Obesity

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Eating Breakfast Every Day Will Not Protect Against Obesity

Breakfast

Breakfast

Many of us have heard this whopper, and I am not referring to that fatty charbroiled cheeseburger from a fast food chain.  American children have long been indoctrinated by our family members, teachers, and just about any authority figure that routinely eating breakfast is a simple habit to be healthier and help prevent weight gain.

The theory is that skipping breakfast increases hunger, increases cravings, and leads us to overeat and seek out junk food.  Sure, eating a meal in the AM might prevent you from having cravings and splurging, but it is far from universal.  I know for me, that I have a difficult morning if I miss breakfast.  I think this varies from person to person.  

It makes sense to have a meal after a long night of sleep to fill your stomach and stabilize your blood sugar but a single meal does not boost your metabolism nor prevent or cause weight gain.  It may simply prevent you from splurging.  The only way to gain weight is to eat more calories than you burn in a set period of time because you can’t make something from nothing (please excuse the double negative).  Overeating if you skip breakfast or consume breakfast is not a good thing either way and both will cause weight gain.  

Research on Breakfast:  

  1. Weight loss success is more common in those that eat a morning meal.  The National Weight Control Registry found that 78% of those that were successful at maintaining weight loss ate breakfast[1].  I think the key is a schedule of meals that you stick to and control your portions.  
  2. Those that ate breakfast lost more weight.  Another study by Schlundt looked at breakfast versus no breakfast in a randomized placebo trial and found that the breakfast group lost 2.7 additional kilograms.  Once again this is not necessarily a causal relationship[2].  
  3. Eating breakfast is tied to less overweight and obesity.  A good study of 59,000 children/adolescents in Europe found an increase in BMI in breakfast skippers[3].  It is important to note that this study does not indicate causality.  A similar study found the same results among 100,000 Asian adults[4].

I have to admit that the research is mixed and there is evidence supporting both eating breakfast and skipping or delaying breakfast.  I would say if you are hungry eat a meal, but if you are not, don’t eat breakfast in the morning or delay it to a have midmorning snack.    

The Bottom Line:  The research is mixed.  I do not think that the research indicates that a lack breakfast is a cause of obesity, but the fact is that regular breakfast meals are one thing that most people who are able to maintain weight loss have in common.  This relationship is not causal but clearly, a structured eating habit is key to success.  I would recommend that you find an eating and exercise schedule that works for you and keep it going!  

Footnotes
[1]Wyatt et al., “Long-Term Weight Loss and Breakfast in Subjects in the National Weight Control Registry.”
[2]Schlundt et al., “The Role of Breakfast in the Treatment of Obesity: A Randomized Clinical Trial.”
[3]Szajewska and Ruszczyński, “Systematic Review Demonstrating That Breakfast Consumption Influences Body Weight Outcomes in Children and Adolescents in Europe.”
[4]Horikawa et al., “Skipping Breakfast and Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity in Asian and Pacific Regions: A Meta-Analysis.”
Horikawa, Chika, Satoru Kodama, Yoko Yachi, Yoriko Heianza, Reiko Hirasawa, Yoko Ibe, Kazumi Saito, Hitoshi Shimano, Nobuhiro Yamada, and Hirohito Sone. “Skipping Breakfast and Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity in Asian and Pacific Regions: A Meta-Analysis.” Preventive Medicine. Elsevier BV, October 2011. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2011.08.030
Schlundt, DG, JO Hill, T Sbrocco, J Pope-Cordle, and T Sharp. “The Role of Breakfast in the Treatment of Obesity: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 55, no. 3 (March 1, 1992): 645–51. [PubMed]
Szajewska, Hania, and Marek Ruszczyński. “Systematic Review Demonstrating That Breakfast Consumption Influences Body Weight Outcomes in Children and Adolescents in Europe.” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. Informa UK Limited, January 29, 2010. doi: 10.1080/10408390903467514
Wyatt, Holly R., Gary K. Grunwald, Cecilia L. Mosca, Mary L. Klem, Rena R. Wing, and James O. Hill. “Long-Term Weight Loss and Breakfast in Subjects in the National Weight Control Registry.” Obesity Research. Wiley-Blackwell, February 2002. doi: 10.1038/oby.2002.13
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About the Author

ChuckH
I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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