As a child, my parents stressed to me the importance of eating breakfast, citing it as ‘the most important meal of the day’. Many people frequently use this phrase as a way to advocate eating breakfast every morning, but seldom have I heard anyone give a true as to why this belief is held. As I’ve grown older, particularly in the past year or two, I’ve found myself eating breakfast much less frequently, all the while scared that this practice would have a negative effect on my health. However, upon looking into the matter further, I have failed to find any proof that breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day.
In an article on webMD.com the author describes how some people will skip breakfast as a means of losing weight. Many people think that skipping breakfast will decrease calorie intake, and thus help them diet. Many observational studies have found that people who skip breakfast are more likely to gain weight, with scientists hypothesizing that missing breakfast causes people to snack more and eat larger servings throughout the day (Rubin). However, observational studies are not a good means by which to prove causation. The same article cited a randomized control trial in which test subjects were randomly assigned to either eating breakfast or not eating breakfast. However, the experiment failed to find that skipping breakfast particularly increased or decreased calorie count over the course of the day. After reading more, though, I found that Rubin notes another experiment done by Cornell University found through randomized control that those who skip breakfast save 450 calories a day.
Whether this is good or bad is left up to interpretation. This study found a correlation between skipping breakfast and calorie intake throughout the day, but did not find how this relates to weight loss.
I wanted to figure out if there was any proof that eating breakfast can lead to weight fluctuation, or any important health statistic for that matter. After all, the very concept of eating breakfast being important and making you more healthy is very vague and led by a soft endpoint, ‘health’. A New York Times article titled ‘Sorry, there’s nothing magical about breakfast’ cites a study from 2013 that found that the subjects that skipped breakfast had a slightly higher risk of heart disease. This is a correlation, though, not causation. It is very possible that a confounding variable, like eating habits, causes this. Those who skip breakfast may be more inclined to drink alcohol, or eat greasy food, which could lead to this correlation.
The more I looked, I found that there was distinct lack of well done randomized control trials. Some observational studies noted correlations, but could not go anywhere with these conclusions because of a lack of information. The studies that I did find could not find a noticeable difference in weight of their test subjects. Further, this New York Times article cites numerous studies and experiments, all of which accept the null hypothesis and state that breakfast has no discernible effect and is not the most important meal of the day.
Despite not being able to find an experiment that links eating breakfast and a hard endpoint about health, I did find an EAS article linking several soft endpoints with eating breakfast as I concluded my research. It lists four main reasons why breakfast is important, among them, breakfast primes the body for calories later in the day, breakfast lowers stress hormones, breakfast impacts the entire day’s food consumption, and breakfast affects cognitive ability (Ivy).
As such, I can not say with certainty that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. From a nutritional standpoint, it is widely held that eating breakfast is good for you and primes your body for the day. However, I cannot report from what I’ve read that science has proven that breakfast will have a noticeable impact on your health, because it has not. As science has supported the nutritional benefits that the aforementioned EAS article reported, but has failed to link breakfast eating with weight loss, heart disease, or any other claims/myths that are out there. As a result I would advise breakfast eaters to keep eating breakfast. If you don’t feel hungry in the morning, don’t feel pressured to eat breakfast because of claimed nutritional benefits, because science has not substantiated them yet.