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:
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 has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked and lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.