Skipping breakfast may not enlarge a kid's lunch

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Skipping breakfast may not change how much food a kid eats during the rest of the day, suggests a new study.

But missing the morning meal still carries consequences, the researchers caution.

Some evidence has suggested that the increasingly common practice of skipping breakfast could lead kids to overeat at later meals, and eventually pack on extra pounds. Yet few studies have rigorously tested whether that’s what really happens, lead researcher Tanja Kral of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, in Philadelphia, told Reuters Health in an e-mail.

Kral and her colleagues set out to assess the effect of skipping breakfast on appetite and total calories consumed during the rest of the day among 21 kids between the ages of 8 and 10, most of them regular breakfast eaters.

Each child visited the testing lab twice. One time they were fed a breakfast of cereal, milk, banana and orange juice; on the other visit they were not. On both occasions, the kids were later served lunch, which they could choose from an array of foods -- including pasta, broccoli, applesauce and cookies -- and told they could eat as much or as little as they wanted over a period of 20 minutes.

The children were then free to leave the lab and parents reported back what the kids consumed during the remainder of the day.

Not surprisingly, kids said they felt hungrier throughout the morning when they did not eat breakfast.

However, that didn’t necessarily translate into larger lunches, report the researchers in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“We found that despite differences in feelings of hunger and fullness, children who regularly consume breakfast did not make up for the missing calories from a skipped breakfast on a single occasion by eating more later in the day,” said Kral.

As a result, the kids who ate breakfast ended up consuming more calories overall, and more than they needed to maintain their current weights.

The average kid took in 362 more calories on days when they did eat breakfast, pushing them about 20 percent over their estimated daily energy requirement -- a number based on height, weight, sex and activity levels.

The disconnect between the kids’ stated hunger levels, physical energy needs, and how much they actually ate may be explained by other factors, the authors speculate.

“A child’s food intake is very much influenced by factors in the environment, such as the amounts and types of foods that are available,” Kral explained. “Hence, these environmental factors can override feelings of hunger and fullness.”

Kral noted that studying children with a wider range of body weights and ages, or kids who regularly skip breakfast, might have yielded different results.

She also cautioned that their findings do not support skipping breakfast, which is still important for other reasons.

“Breakfast is an important part of a healthy diet,” said Kral. “A healthy breakfast provides many important nutrients that are crucial for children’s growth and development.”

“Children who skip breakfast may not make up for those missing nutrients later in the day,” she added.

Cereal maker General Mills supported the study and supplied the breakfast cereals used in the tests.

SOURCE: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online November 17, 2010.