Research: The Effect of breakfast on weight and energy intake

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Should we or should we not eat breakfast?  

Heart shaped fried eggs

Heart shaped fried eggs

I am absolutely certain that you have heard that you should never skip breakfast.  I have been taught for years that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  There is plenty of research to indicate that people eat breakfast tend to be somewhat slimmer.  The problem is that this is a correlation and correlation does not equal causation.   The fact is that it makes sense as the calories after a night of sleep in which you have not eaten anything.  

You may be eating breakfast because you have been taught that it is good for your health.  Maybe, you have been told that doing so will improve your performance at work.   Also, you may believe eat breakfast will prevent you from gaining weight by stopping you from snacking.  The problem is that the facts are not quite clear in the corner of eating breakfast every day.

The good news is a new research study from 2017 looked at this very question and appears to have found an answer.  The study, Effect of breakfast on weight and energy intake: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials“,  was published in the British Medical Journal[1].  The researchers looked to examine the effect of regular breakfast consumption on weight change and energy intake in people living in high-income countries by means of a systematic review and meta-analysis.  They searched for randomized controlled trials published between January 1990 and January 2018 investigating the effect of breakfast on weight or energy intake.  The included studies were randomized controlled trials from high-income countries in adults comparing breakfast consumption with no breakfast consumption that included a measure of body weight or energy intake. Two independent reviewers extracted the data and assessed the risk of bias of included studies.  Random effects meta-analyses of the effect of breakfast consumption on weight and daily energy intake were performed.

Breakfast of Pancakes Bacon Eggs

Breakfast of Pancakes, Bacon, and Eggs

The researchers found 13 studies with seven examined the effect of eating breakfast on weight change and 10 examined the effect on energy intake.  Meta-analysis of the results found a small difference in weight (0.44 kg or about 1 pound) favoring participants who skipped breakfast, but there was some inconsistency across trials.  Participants assigned to breakfast had a higher total daily energy intake than those assigned to skip breakfast (by 259.79 kcal per day.   

In my own life, I have observed that hunger is our best indicator that I need to eat.  I am not usually hungry in the morning and tended to force myself to eat.  Recently, I have changed that habit.  Many healthy people who are not hungry in the morning eat breakfast just because they have been told eat breakfast is better for their health and might help them stay or become slim.  The fact is that people who eat more food gain weight.  Those that eat breakfast despite not being hungry tend to gain weight over time.  Intermittent fasting is safe and can be accomplished by skipping breakfast, but should only be employed by those that can do it with our snacking all morning.  

The bottom line:  This study suggests that the addition of breakfast might not be a good strategy for weight loss, regardless of established breakfast habit.  Caution is needed when recommending breakfast for weight loss in adults, as it could have the opposite effect. Skipping breakfast when they’re not hungry may be a good strategy for weight loss in some.  It seems the best recommendation to follow is this one: if you’re not hungry in the morning, you can skip breakfast. And if you’re hungry, by all means, don’t skip breakfast.  If you tend to graze the snack room or candy bowls all morning if you miss breakfast, don’t skip the morning meal.  Further randomized controlled trials of high quality are needed to examine the role of breakfast eating in the approach to weight management.


K. Sievert et al., “Effect of breakfast on weight and energy intake: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials,” BMJ, p. l42, Jan. 2019 [Online]. Available: 10.1136/bmj.l42″ target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>
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About the Author

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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