The subject of ‘breakfast’ has certainly become controversial in recent years. Once heralded as the ‘most important meal of the day’, new research has challenged this thinking. For example, intervention studies in adults have shown no distinct advantage of breakfast consumption for weight loss or metabolic health versus breakfast skipping. The debate continues in the scientific literature.
Despite these results in adults, it is important to draw a distinction in children, as their developmental stage presents a unique set of circumstances. However, the available research is inconsistent in this population as well. Some studies have shown beneficial effects of breakfast consumption on weight loss and cognition (memory, attention, reaction time, executive function), whereas other studies have not, leading to the question: do kids really need to eat breakfast?
The Egg Nutrition Center, in partnership with the Hass Avocado Board, addressed this question head on at the Advances & Controversies in Clinical Nutrition meeting held 4–6 December 2015 in Long Beach, CA. Two internationally renowned experts on breakfast consumption in children came together to provide an overview on the research specific to obesity/weight loss and cognition:
Each discussed the complexities in studying children, and the inconsistencies in how breakfast outcomes were measured in different studies. Both experts concluded that methodological challenges have influenced the evidence base and that future work needs to be based on standardized study designs and methods to better clarify if breakfast is important and if the composition of breakfast may influence results. A complete assessment of the limitations in the research and recommendations for moving forward have just been published by Drs. Bellissimo and Dye and their respective teams in Advances in Nutrition.
Although the research on whether breakfast is beneficial to children is inconclusive at this time, there does not appear to be any health risks associated with the first meal of the day. Further, it is known that breakfast is typically the meal providing the most nutrients. For suggestions on how to build a better breakfast, please see our Better Breakfast infographic and Quick, Wholesome Breakfasts Kids Will Love.
Reference: Adolphus K, Bellissimo N, Lawton CL, Ford NA, Rains TM, Totosy de Zepetnek J, Dye L. Methodological challenges in studies examining the effects of breakfast on cognitive performance and appetite in children and adolescents. Adv Nutr. 2017;8:184S-96S.