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Leon Kaye headshot

Skipping Breakfast May Not Be the End of the World After All

By Leon Kaye

You have probably heard this mantra since you were a small child: Do not skip breakfast! It's the most important meal of the day!

Anyone who is old enough to remember the “Schoolhouse Rock” cartoon series probably remembers the “Quickfast” public service announcement exhorting kids to have anything, just anything, for breakfast -- even if it was just a glass milk or a slice of cheese.

Hence, among the biggest pushers of having that breakfast to start the day are the cereal companies, and they do not just want you to have a glass of milk:

  • “Ready-to-eat cereal ranks as one of the best choices available as part of a nutritious breakfast.” – Kellogg

  • Breakfast eaters tend to “Have better intake of nutrients . . . [and] have healthier body weights.” – General Mills

  • Quaker Oats, a subsidiary of PepsiCo, Inc., is delivering new breakfast innovations that can help warm up consumers looking for exciting, new and tasty ways to enjoy oatmeal.”

But it is not just the food companies pushing you to have breakfast, even if you are one of those folks who tends to skip that morning meal or wait for coffee and a bagel at the office. Even revered health organizations such as the Mayo Clinic insist that breakfast is integral to starting a productive day. The Cleveland Clinic also made the timeless argument that skipping breakfast is akin to driving a car on an empty tank of gas.

But as pediatrics professor and New York Times contributor Aaron Carroll suggested in a column on Monday, the daily breakfast is not a panacea for everyone. Sure, some reports suggest that free school breakfast programs here in the U.S. have some impact. But others found little evidence that such programs make a difference in health, behavior or academics. In fact, the federal school breakfast initiative is arguably more impactful when it comes to fighting hunger, rather than boosting performance in America’s classrooms.

As for adults, breakfast has tenuous links to public health. It is easy to find studies saying that a regular breakfast can counter obesity, but as Carroll wrote, many of these studies used dubious methodology or randomized controlled trials. Then we have the food company studies. Kellogg supported a study that linked a regular breakfast with a healthy body mass index (BMI); and research funded by PepsiCo’s Quaker Oats suggested that the consumption of oatmeal and frosted cornflakes could reduce weight and cholesterol — of course, if one such breakfast in taken in a highly controlled setting for four weeks straight.

Other studies, however, found no correlation between skipping breakfast and weight gain. It may be more important where meals are eaten (as in restaurants versus home) or how many calories are consumed on a daily basis. Another study by the New England Journal of Medicine, written in part by a researcher who disclosed he had accepted fees from companies including Kraft Foods and McDonald's, found no relationship between eating breakfast and the prevention of obesity. Such findings fly in the face of research done by companies such as General Mills, which caught plenty of flak 10 years ago when it touted a study — authored by three General Mills’ employees -- to argue that sugary cereals are beneficial for children’s health.

As with any research that links food to health, there is no hard and fast rule. Knowing your body and what works for you when it comes to food, exercise and health is the first rule of thumb. But when it comes to all of these studies, it's important to ask questions: Who exactly is funding, writing and promoting this research? You have to be your own advocate when it comes to health. Do not let any company, or NGO for that matter, have an impact on how you define a healthy lifestyle — and that applies to breakfast.

Image credit: Chris Metcalf/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye