Breakfast is often regarded as the most important meal of the day. It is the food that kickstarts the body after a long period of inactivity and prepares you for the rest of the day to come. It is commonly recommended that we eat breakfast as part of a healthy lifestyle, but a new study led by the University of Alabama at Birmingham aims to challenge this assertion.
It has been regularly argued that skipping breakfast leaves an individual more open to the risk of snacking unhealthily and eating too heavily at future meals. In an article on dieting myths, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) stated:
"Skipping meals, especially breakfast, can make you feel tired and hungry and more likely to reach for high-fat, high-calorie snacks. In fact, people who eat breakfast are more likely to maintain a healthy weight than those who don't."
Medical News Today have also previously reported on a study that found that individuals skipping breakfast became more susceptible to the temptations of high-calorie food, that fasting appears to "bias" the brain toward seeking out the unhealthy option.
In addition to studies that advise against avoiding breakfast, research has also suggested that it has an underlying importance when it comes to weight loss. A study conducted by Tel Aviv University in 2013 found that eating a large breakfast and small dinner promoted weight loss and reduced risks for diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol more effectively than eating a small breakfast and big dinner.
Limitations with previous research
Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) have previously been critical of past studies on the proposed effect of breakfast on obesity, claiming that research projects have, at times, lacked probative value - failing to contribute any new knowledge to the area - or contained biased research reporting, with findings distorted to support a particular hypothesis.
The overall analysis from that particular study by UAB indicated that while there is an association between breakfast-skipping and obesity, it has yet to be confirmed whether there is a causal link between the two. The new study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, specifically aimed to establish whether or not breakfast recommendations had a direct effect on weight loss.
Regularly consuming or regularly skipping breakfast did not influence weight loss, according to the study.
The study set out to examine "the impact of a recommendation to eat or skip breakfast, and the impact of switching breakfast eating habits for the study, on weight loss in adults trying to independently lose weight" and trialed 309 otherwise healthy overweight and obese adults spread across multiple locations.
For 16 weeks, experimental groups were specifically told to either skip or eat breakfast, while a control group comprised of breakfast eaters and breakfast skippers were given healthy nutrition advice that did not mention breakfast.
The researchers found that weight loss was not influenced when comparing regularly consuming with regularly skipping breakfast.
Lead study author Emily Dhurandhar, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Health Behavior, said that they could now move forward with studying other techniques for improved effectiveness. "We should try to understand why eating or skipping breakfast did not influence weight loss, despite evidence that breakfast may influence appetite and metabolism."
David Allison, Ph.D., director of the UAB Nutrition Obesity Center, senior investigator on the project and also lead for UAB's previous study, said the following:
"The field of obesity and weight loss is full of commonly held beliefs that have not been subjected to rigorous testing; we have now found that one such belief does not seem to hold up when tested."
This study could be the first step in re-evaluating what is important in a healthy, balanced diet. It will lead to further investigations into effective weight loss, but also hopefully to an improvement in quality of future studies in this field.
Written by James McIntosh