Breakfast and kids: Why this meal matters

March 06, 2017
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Did you know the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that one-third of all Americans will have diabetes by the year 2050? This scary statistic is not just an American phenomenon. In many Western countries, modern diets have led to a diabetes epidemic. The main culprits are what you would expect: obesity and an unhealthy diet. These lifestyle patterns are set as children, and they are very difficult to change later on.

What steps can we take to prevent this? As we recognize National School Breakfast Week, one crucial step is always to have breakfast. Most of the 20 to 30 percent of children and teens who skip breakfast may think it’s no big deal, but the long-term consequences can be serious enough to warrant a big family discussion. We all know instinctively that eating breakfast is important, but research studies may help you convince your kids to eat breakfast. 

A message for your overachiever

Most kids are very focused on the present. They aren’t motivated by health risks that may occur decades down the line. They're much more open to data showing present-day effects, like how breakfast-skippers not only gain more weight but also do worse in school. If you have an overachiever who runs out the door in the morning without breakfast, show them the studies proving that breakfast-skippers perform worse on school exams.

Here’s an important tip for you if your child skips breakfast and is terrified of gaining weight: Children who don’t eat breakfast actually end up more obese than those who eat breakfast! The main reason is that breakfast-skippers get very hungry by lunchtime and end up binge-eating more. 

Skipping breakfast could mean a larger waistline

They usually eat less-healthy mid-morning snacks and bigger lunch portions. Also, because skipping breakfast puts their metabolism into a partial fasting mode, their bodies store more energy from the foods they do eat as fat instead of breaking it down into glucose for their brains and muscles.

Adults don't get a pass for skipping breakfast either. They get the same slow weight gain as kids do. The importance of eating breakfast was impressively covered in the Childhood Determinants of Adult Health Study. In this fascinating study from Australia, researchers asked 2,000 schoolchildren about their breakfast habits, then followed up with them 20 years later and assessed their health.

The results were striking. Kids who skipped breakfast all those years had on average 2-inch larger waistlines as adults! They also had higher insulin levels, which can lead to more diabetes. In addition, they had higher total cholesterol and higher “bad” cholesterol, known as LDL — both of which clog the arteries and can eventually lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Links between no breakfast and disease

Another long-term study, this time from Japan, followed 82,000 people for 15 years. It found that breakfast-skippers have a 14 percent increased risk of heart disease and an 18 percent higher risk of strokes.

Another excellent study, the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, followed 29,000 American men for 16 years. It found that breakfast-skippers had a 21 percent higher risk of developing diabetes. If you are worried about diabetes or have been told you are prediabetic, it's very important for you to eat small, frequent meals instead of one or two large meals. 

Breakfast without simple sugars

The type of breakfast is also important. Research suggests what is obvious to parents: Simple sugars in sweetened cereals are much less healthy than high-fiber, whole-grain cereals, fruits, nuts and dairy products. The energy bursts provided by sugary cereals give kids a quick “high,” which wears off just as quickly and leaves their brains and bodies dragging before lunchtime.

My advice for those of you who skip breakfast because "I have no time" is to at least have a cup of yogurt with some fresh berries and cereal in the morning. You can throw it in your bag, along with a banana, and eat it on the way to school or work. Yogurt by itself is a superfood with calcium and probiotics. Daily yogurt actually helps keep your weight stable, and blueberries are packed with healthy antioxidants and fiber.

So, the next time your kids try to run out the door before breakfast, sit them down in front of a bowl of Wheaties with yogurt and tell them how breakfast helps with better grades as well as better health — now, and in their future.

For more tips to keep your family healthy, you can read my wellness blog, MyFamily Health Guide.

Have you had success persuading your kids to eat breakfast? Share your story in our comment section.