Rushing to school or work or simply not feeling hungry: there may be many reasons why a lot of families don’t always have breakfast. However, regularly having breakfast can be favorable for children and helps promote good eating habits from a young age onward that lasts a lifetime.
Breakfast is the first meal of the day after a long period (8-12 hours) of fasting. A healthy breakfast provides the body with energy and nutrients to start the day well (BDA, 2016). There are indications that breakfast has beneficial metabolic effects, in particular a decreased risk of Type 2 Diabetes and metabolic syndrome (Bi et al., 2015; Maki et al., 2016), and is important for long term health and wellbeing. Although observational research often shows an association between having breakfast and a healthy weight (Blondin et al., 2016; Horikawa et al., 2011; Szajewska and Ruszczynski, 2010), this is not yet confirmed by intervention studies (Leidy et al., 2016).
A possible explanation is that the association between a healthy weight and having breakfast is influenced by other lifestyle factors, such as sleeping habits, meal frequency and energy expenditure (Blondin et al., 2016, Dhurandhar, 2016; Brown et al., 2013). However, from both types of research, there are indications that having breakfast is favorable for insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance (Bi et al., 2015; Maki et al., 2016).
Active in class
A lot of scientific research focusses on the relationship between having breakfast and learning achievements in children. Three systematic reviews of intervention studies show that children who have breakfast, show slightly better cognitive performance over the short term, particularly in tasks for which memory, attention, planning and organization are important (Hoyland et al., 2009; Edefonti et al., 2014; Adolphus et al., 2013). These findings are supported by two further reviews by Ells et al., (2008) and Adolphus et al., (2016).
A healthy breakfast provides a higher intake of essential nutrients, energy and fibre. Two studies compared the intake of nutrients and energy in children that ate breakfast and children who did not eat breakfast, using data from the National Nutrition Survey in the United Kingdom (2008-2012) (Coulthard et al., 2017) and the United States (1999-2006) (Deshmukh-Taskar et al., 2010). As expected, children who ate breakfast had a higher nutrient and energy intake compared to children who did not eat breakfast. For example, children that ate breakfast had a higher intake of fiber, folic acid, iron and calcium. Therefore they complied better to the national nutritional guidelines.
The composition of a healthy breakfast
Worldwide nutritional guidelines advise a healthy breakfast providing carbohydrates, protein, fiber and vitamins and minerals. In the UK, the British Dietetic Association (BDA) advises a healthy breakfast based on the main food groups (BDA, 2016). Wholegrain starchy foods such as porridge and wholegrain bread are a convenient choice and help ensure a good fibre intake. Healthy additions to cereals are fruit and berries along with milk and/or yoghurt which naturally contains protein, vitamin B2, vitamin B12, calcium, iodine, phosphorus and potassium. Breakfast is an ideal opportunity for boosting fruit and vegetable intake, so as an alternative to cereals or yoghurt topped with fruit include mushrooms or tomatoes with poached or scrambled eggs on toast or baked beans.
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Latest findings from the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) years 7 and 8 found around 1 in 5 of 11-18 year-old girls have inadequate calcium intakes at an age when calcium is particularly important for rapid bone growth (Public Health England, 2018). Average fruit and vegetable intakes in 11-18 year-olds also remained lower than the recommended intake of at least 5 portions per day (equivalent to 400 g of fruit and vegetables) at 2.7 portions per day. Therefore a healthy breakfast can make an important contribution to intakes of key nutrients in children, in particular fibre, calcium, folate, iodine, iron and Vitamin D.
Setting a good example
Several studies show that (eating) behaviors of parents determine the eating habits of young children (Wardle en Cooke, 2008; Scaglioni et al., 2008). Once dietary habits are learned they often last throughout life (Schwartz et al., 2011), hence they strongly determine eating behavior later in life (Neal et al., 2011). Therefore, having breakfast is a good habit for the whole family.
- Having breakfast ensures a higher intake of essential nutrients and energy.
- A varied breakfast consists of grain products, such as wholegrain bread, porridge, and wholegrain cereals, without added sugar and salt, as well as skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and yoghurt. Healthy additions to this are fruit, vegetables, nut or legume butter, eggs, reduced fat cheese, cottage cheese or fish.
- Young children copy their parents’ behavior, which is a strong determinant of their eating behavior later in life. Having breakfast is therefore a good habit for the whole family.
- Adolphus, K. et al. (2013). “The effects of breakfast on behavior and academic performance in children and adolescents.” Frontiers in human neuroscience 7:425.
- Adolphus, K. et al. (2016). “The Effects of Breakfast and Breakfast Composition on Cognition in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review–.” Advances in Nutrition 7(3): 590S-612S.
- Bi, H.et al. (2015). “Breakfast skipping and the risk of type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis of observational studies.” Public Health Nutr 18(16): 3013-3019.
- Blondin, S. A. et al. (2016). “Breakfast consumption and adiposity among children and adolescents: an updated review of the literature.” Pediatr Obes 11(5): 333-348.
- British Dietetic Association (BDA). (2016). Food Fact Sheet: healthy breakfast.
- Brown, A. W. et al. “Belief beyond the evidence: using the proposed effect of breakfast on obesity to show 2 practices that distort scientific evidence–.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 98(5): 1298-1308.
- Coulthard, J. D. et al. (2017). “Breakfast consumption and nutrient intakes in 4–18-year-olds: UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey Rolling Programme (2008–2012).” British Journal of Nutrition 118(4): 280-290.
- Deshmukh-Taskar, P. R. et al. (2010). “The relationship of breakfast skipping and type of breakfast consumption with nutrient intake and weight status in children and adolescents: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2006.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 110(6): 869-878.
- Dhurandhar, E. J. (2016). “True, true, unrelated? A review of recent evidence for a causal influence of breakfast on obesity.” Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes 23(5): 384-388.
- Edefonti, V. et al. (2014). “The effect of breakfast composition and energy contribution on cognitive and academic performance: a systematic review.” Am J Clin Nutr 100(2): 626-656.
- Ells, L. J. et al. (2008). “A systematic review of the effect of dietary exposure that could be achieved through normal dietary intake on learning and performance of school-aged children of relevance to UK schools.” Br J Nutr 100(5): 927-936.
- Horikawa, C. et al. (2011). “Skipping breakfast and prevalence of overweight and obesity in Asian and Pacific regions: a meta-analysis.” Prev Med 53(4-5): 260-267.
- Hoyland, A. et al. (2009) “A systematic review of the effect of breakfast on the cognitive performance of children and adolescents.” Nutr Res Rev 22(2): 220-243.
- Leidy, H. J. et al. (2016). “Evaluating the Intervention-Based Evidence Surrounding the Causal Role of Breakfast on Markers of Weight Management, with Specific Focus on Breakfast Composition and Size.” Adv Nutr 7(3): 563s-575s.
- Maki, K. C., et al. (2016). “The Effects of Breakfast Consumption and Composition on Metabolic Wellness with a Focus on Carbohydrate Metabolism.” Adv Nutr 7(3): 613s-621s.
- Neal, D.T. et al. (2011) The Pull of the Past: When do habits persist despite conflict with motives? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(11), 1428-1437.
- Public Health England (2018). National Diet and Nutrition Survey: Results from Years 7 and 8 (combined) of the Rolling Programme (2014/2015 to 2015/2016).
- Scaglioni, S. et al. (2008). Influence of parental attitudes in the development of children eating behaviour. British Journal of Nutrition, 2008; Vol. 99, Suppl.1, S22–S25.
- Schwartz, C. et al. (2011). Development of healthy eating habits early in life. Review of recent evidence and selected guidelines. Appetite, 2011; Vol. 57, pp. 796–807.
- Szajewska, H. and M. Ruszczynski (2010). “Systematic review demonstrating that breakfast consumption influences body weight outcomes in children and adolescents in Europe.” Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 50(2): 113-119.
- Wardle, J. en Cooke, L. (2008). Genetic and environmental determinants of children’s food preferences. British Journal of Nutrition, 2008; Vol. 99, Suppl.1, S15–S21.
- Williams, A. J. et al. (2013). “Systematic review and meta-analysis of the association between childhood overweight and obesity and primary school diet and physical activity policies.” Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 10: 101.