Skipping breakfast linked to increased risk of behavioural problems in children

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Children who skip breakfast are more likely to develop behavioural problems, a study suggests.

Breakfast used to be considered the most important meal of the day, giving the brain and body the fuel it needs for the day ahead.

But people have started to doubt that idea in recent years because studies have shown how intermittent fasting can boost longevity.

Now, a study suggests that cutting out morning meals can more than treble the risk of problems including anxiety, low self-esteem and poor mood in young people.

Researchers surveyed parents of 3,700 children aged four to 14 in Spain to see how eating habits impacted their mental health. 

The authors said skipping breakfast could cause the issues because they miss out on vital nutrients in the morning and can’t make up the deficit throughout the day. 

They also found eating breakfast on the way to school – from a cafe or restaurant – raised the risk compared to having the meal at home. 

Children who skip breakfast are three times more likely to develop behavioural problems, a study suggests

Children who skip breakfast are three times more likely to develop behavioural problems, a study suggests

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting involves switching between days of fasting and days of eating normally. 

Intermittent fasting diets fall generally into two categories — time-restricted feeding, which narrows eating times to six to eight hours per day, also known as the 16:8 diet, and 5:2 intermittent fasting. 

The 16:8 diet is a form of intermittent fasting, also known as Time Restricted Eating.

Followers of the eating plan fast for 16 hours a day, and eat whatever they want in the remaining eight hours — typically between 10am and 6pm. 

This may be more tolerable than the well-known 5:2 diet — where followers restrict their calories to 500 to 600 a day for two days a week and then eat as normal for the remaining five days.

In addition to weight loss, 16:8 intermittent fasting is believed to improve blood sugar control, boost brain function and help us live longer.

Many prefer to eat between noon and 8pm as this means they only need to fast overnight and skip breakfast, but can still eat lunch and dinner, along with a few snacks.

When you do eat, it is best to opt for healthy options like fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

And drink water and unsweetened beverages. 

Drawbacks of the fasting plan may be that people overindulge in the hours they can eat, leading to weight gain.

It can also result in digestive problems over the long-term, as well as hunger, fatigue and weakness.

Author Dr Jose Francisco Lopez-Gil, of the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Cuenca, said: ‘Our results suggest that it is not only important to eat breakfast, but it’s also important where young people eat breakfast and what they eat.

‘Skipping breakfast or eating breakfast away from home is associated with increased likelihood of psychosocial behavioral problems in children and adolescents. 

‘Similarly, consumption of certain foods or drinks are associated with higher or lower odds of psychosocial behavioral problems.’

The study, published in Frontiers in Nutrition, surveyed parents of 3,772 children in Spain in 2017.

They quizzed parents on their child’s mood, self esteem and anxiety levels, alongside what exactly a child had for breakfast, and where they ate it. 

Researchers took the total responses across the 25 questions to score the children on overall psychosocial behavioural problems.

They also recorded children’s age, sex, region and immigrant status. 

Analysis showed children who skipped breakfast were 3.29 times as likely to develop behavioural problems as those who did not.

Those who ate breakfast outside the home were 2.06 times more likely to suffer the problems.

Researchers suggested breakfasts eaten at cafes and fast food restaurants tended to be less nutritious.

Meanwhile, what children ate also had an impact. 

Missing out on breakfasts including bread, toast, cereals raised the chances of behavioural problems by 31 per cent.

For comparison, eating breakfast without protein-rich eggs, cheese or ham reduced the risk of developing the issues by 44 per cent.

Dr Lopez-Gil said: ‘The fact that eating breakfast away from home is associated with greater psychosocial health problems is a novel aspect of our study.

‘Our findings reinforce the need to promote not only breakfast as part of a healthy lifestyle routine, but also that it should be eaten at home. 

‘Also, to prevent psychosocial health problems, a breakfast that includes dairy and/or cereals, and minimises certain animal foods high in saturated fat or cholesterol, could help to decrease psychosocial health problems in young people.’

Skipping breakfast has become more popular among adults seeking to lose weight as part of intermittent fasting.

Intermittent fasting diets involve narrowing eating times to six to eight hours per day, also known as the 16:8 diet.

Followers of the eating plan fast for 16 hours a day, and eat whatever they want in the remaining eight hours — typically between 10am and 6pm.

It was once thought to help shed the pounds by encouraging the body to use existing fat stores as an energy source when food is not available. 

But recent research has suggested the rapid weight loss is not actually caused by fasting itself, but the overall reduction in calories it can result in. 

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