The findings come as no surprise in the current climate of heightened obesity awareness, but they continue to add weight to a growing demand for food manufacturers to address the issue through targeted product development and marketing.
But the pressure on the industry is counterbalanced by the opportunity it reveals, leaving a gap in the market that has yet to be adequately filled for easy, fun and nutritious breakfast and snack products targeting young adults.
"As adolescents enter the workforce or college, breakfast may be looked at as an unnecessary hassle and easily skipped," said Dr Heather Niemeier, lead author of the new study published in last month's issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.
"However, skipping breakfast can lead to greater levels of hunger later in the day, causing overeating, or the choosing of heavy foods that fill you up faster, but may not be very nutritious," she added.
Researchers at the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center at Miriam Hospital and Brown Medical School analyzed data from a total of 30,000 adolescents and young adults, following a significant group of participants during a five-year period of transition from adolescence to young adulthood.
According to their findings, the number of participants considered overweight increased from 29 percent to 47 percent during the period. Fast food consumption increased from 2 days a week as adolescents to about 2.5 days per week as young adults, and although participants reported that they consumed breakfast 4 to 5 days per week during adolescence - this decreased to 3 days per week by young adulthood.
"This study highlights the importance of encouraging adolescents who are entering adulthood to eat breakfast regularly and to make healthy food choices, limiting their fast food consumption," said Niemeier.
But according to another study published in recent months, although most Americans agree in the importance of consuming breakfast, the majority of consumers say they do not have the time for it.
Conducted by Impulse Research Service on behalf of consumer goods company Heinz, the survey revealed that 85 percent of Americans agree that eating breakfast is important. However, busy schedules and an increasingly fast-paced lifestyle have meant that more and more Americans miss out on this meal, saying it is "too hard" to find the time.
Indeed, the need for convenience in the breakfast sector is nothing new, and has in recent years played a key role in new product innovation.
According to industry expert and vice president of the market research firm NPD Group Harry Balzer, "cereal at one time was a convenient, hearty, healthy breakfast. But because of modern-day time constraints, it's just not as convenient as it was perceived to be 20 years ago, primarily because it can't be eaten on the go."
Cereal bars went part of the way to addressing this concern, but consumers need a "fuller" breakfast, he said, adding that one way to make cereal an on-the-go item is to serve it with yogurt instead of milk. This is already being seen in certain restaurants, but the key is to market the product as a cereal rather than as a yogurt.
"The driving force in the long run is 'can you make my life easier?' And I always say that if you ever forget that, then you're forgetting why you're doing business," he said in an interview with FoodNavigator-USA.com.
He also stressed the importance of finding innovative ways to provide consumers with convenient fresh goods. "Making fresh easier" would be a key to success for food manufacturers, he said.
"I don't know how this can be done, if I did I wouldn't be talking to you today. But the people who are able to look at the market and think about it in a way that hasn't been thought about before will be the winners," he said.