Skipping breakfast leads to clear nutritional gaps among adults, study finds

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Photo Credit: Getty Images / Arx0nt
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Arx0nt

Related tags Dietary guidelines NHANES Breakfast

Those who skip breakfast are more likely to miss out on several key nutrients considered to be “dietary components of public health concern” by the USDA’s latest dietary guidelines compared to those who reported eating breakfast, according to an analysis of NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) data.

Published in Proceedings of the Nutrition Society​ and supported by a grant from the American Dairy Association Mideast, the study was led by Ohio State School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences graduate students, who analyzed data from 24-hour dietary recalls of 30,889 US adults who participated in the survey between 2005 and 2016.

"What we're seeing is that if you don't eat the foods that are commonly consumed at breakfast, you have a tendency not to eat them the rest of the day. So those common breakfast nutrients become a nutritional gap,"​ said Christopher Taylor, professor of medical dietetics in the College of Medicine at The Ohio State University and senior author of the study.

According to the USDA's latest dietary guidelines​, calcium, potassium, fiber, and vitamin D are considered "dietary components of public health concern"​ for the general US population (with iron added for pregnant women) as shortages of those nutrients are associated with chronic health issues.

Most research related to breakfast has focused on the effects of the missed morning meal on children in school, which includes difficulty focusing and behavioral problems, noted researchers of the study.

For adults, however, the area is less researched, because it's assumed most adults are aware of the importance of eating breakfast, said Taylor.

Current nutritional goals of key nutrients for adults ages 19+:

Calcium:​ 1,000 - 1,300 mg/per day (depending on age and sex)

Vitamin D:​ 600 mg/per day

Potassium:​ 2,600 mg/per day for adult females and 3,400 mg/per day for adult males

Fiber:​ 22-28 g/per day for adult females (recommended intake decreases by age group) and 28 -31 g/per day for adult males (recommend intake decreases by age group)

See the full table of daily nutritional goals​ for US adults on p. 145 of USDA 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines.

Study methods

Analyzing the NHANES data, participants self-designated their eating occasions as a meal or a snack, and what time in the day they ate, which was how researchers were able to determine whether someone was a “breakfast eater”​ or “breakfast skipper,”​ said Stephanie Fanelli, graduate student and first author of the study.

From the sample data, researchers determined that 15.2% of participants or 4,924 adults regularly skipped breakfast.

The researchers translated the food data into nutrient estimates and MyPlate​ equivalents using the federal Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies and daily dietary guidelines, and then compared those estimates to recommended nutrient intakes established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies.

On several key recommendations measured including fiber, magnesium, copper, and zinc, breakfast skippers consumed fewer vitamins and minerals than people who had eaten breakfast. Researchers noted that the differences were most pronounced for folate, calcium, iron, and vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C and D.

Researchers also found that breakfast skippers were more likely than those who ate breakfast to consume more added sugar, carbohydrates, and total fat, partly because they reported higher levels of snacking.

"Snacking is basically contributing a meal's worth of calorie intakes for people who skipped breakfast,"​ said Taylor.

"People who ate breakfast ate more total calories than people who didn't eat breakfast, but the lunch, dinner and snacks were much larger for people who skipped breakfast, and tended to be of a lower diet quality.

"Their dietary intake pattern showed that their consumption didn't capture those extra nutrients that they have basically missed at breakfast," ​Taylor continued.

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