CUENCA, Spain — Children who skip breakfast are more likely to exhibit behavioral problems, according to a new study. Researchers in Spain found that youngsters who eat a healthy meal at home each morning display better mental well-being than those who don’t eat in the morning or dine elsewhere.
However, the study also finds that what kids eat is just as important. Children and teenagers who eat eggs and processed meats like bacon and sausage are more likely to have behavioral issues than children who eat cereal.
Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day
While previous research has revealed the important role a nutritious breakfast plays at the start of the day, the new study is the first to look at the reported effects of skipping this meal or eating it outside of the home.
The Spanish research team says their findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, provide valuable insights and recommendations for parents and their children.
“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,” says first author Dr. José Francisco López-Gil of the University of Castilla-La Mancha in a media release. “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/drinks are associated with higher (eg, processed meat) or lower (eg, dairies, cereals) odds of psychosocial behavioral problems.”
Dr. López-Gil and his team studied data from the 2017 Spanish National Health Survey, which included questionnaires both about breakfast habits as well as children’s psychosocial health. This included questions about their self-esteem, mood, and any anxiety issues.
The surveys, completed by the children’s parents or guardians, included a total of 3,772 Spanish residents between the ages of four and 14. Results show that eating breakfast outside of the home was nearly as detrimental to children’s well-being as skipping the meal altogether.
Why does location matter?
The researchers believe meals outside of a child’s home are frequently less nutritious than those their family prepares, which negatively affects their mood. The results also reveal that coffee, milk, tea, chocolate, cocoa, yogurt, bread, toast, cereals, and pastries all contribute to better well-being and fewer chances of behavioral problems. On the other hand, consuming eggs, cheese, and ham increased the risks for behavioral issues.
Although the study only examined children in Spain, the study authors say that their findings are “consistent” with research from around the world. They add that the availability of nutritious breakfasts at schools could influence the results in some regions.
However, other factors, including parental support children may receive during a home-cooked breakfast, may still play a bigger role in their development.
“The fact that eating breakfast away from home is associated with greater psychosocial health problems is a novel aspect of our study,” López-Gil concludes. “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 minimizes certain animal foods high in saturated fat/cholesterol, could help to decrease psychosocial health problems in young people.”
South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.