Thursday, February 7, 2013
Article # 261. Regular breakfast - a healthy habit in childhood and beyond
Breakfast provides the energy and nutrients for a proper start to the day. Eating breakfast regularly is linked to improved nutrient intakes and may help maintain a healthy body weight. It is particularly important for children and adolescents, as breakfast appears to support learning and school performance, especially among children with poor nutritional status. As this is the meal most likely to be skipped, Europeans need to wake up to the benefits of breakfast.
Breaking the fast
Most children and young people go from being asleep, where the body has fasted for many hours, to being highly active. The demand for glucose in the muscles and brain shoots up and fuel is required. Breakfast breaks the overnight fast and provides energy to kick-start the body and sharpen the mind. Yet Most of Indian children skip breakfast, with older adolescents and girls most likely to do so.
A nutritious meal
Compared to breakfast skippers, children who eat breakfast are more likely to meet nutrient recommendations and have higher daily intakes of important vitamins, minerals and fibre. A quick look at common breakfast choices among children and it is not hard to see why: dairy products, ready-to-eat cereal and breads, juices, fruits and eggs are found among the top. In addition to the nutritional edge, breakfast eaters exhibit many positive health behaviours, including increased daily fruit and vegetable intake, and more physical activity.
Breakfast eaters slimmer
There is now clear evidence that children who eat breakfast tend to be slimmer. A recent systematic review of sixteen studies examining the effect of breakfast skipping on weight control in over 59,000 European children and adolescents, found that eating breakfast was associated with lower Body Mass Index (a measure of weight relative to height) and appeared to protect against overweight and obesity. Similar findings have been reported in other reviews. However, as with all observational studies, cause and effect cannot be assumed.
Early laboratory studies reported positive effects of breakfast on performance indicators including memory recall, attention span, and creativity. A recent systematic review considered 45 laboratory and school breakfast studies to determine if breakfast really does have an impact on children’s performance at school.1 The balance of evidence suggested eating breakfast is more beneficial than skipping breakfast among school children. It appears to be more important that the children eat rather than the specific size or type of breakfast consumed.
Setting a good example
Breakfast improves overall nutrient intake and is associated with performance and weight control, given that individual calorie requirements are respected. Children and adolescents are most likely to eat breakfast in families where the adults eat breakfast themselves, so parents must be encouraged to set a good example. Where this is not possible, school breakfast clubs provide a good alternative, serving up a nutritious breakfast and a host of important social benefits too.