It is often claimed that skipping breakfast makes you more likely to gain weight. The theory is that you will overcompensate by eating too much later in the day. Despite the poor quality of the research available, this meme has spread quickly, perhaps because it is counterintuitive — in other words, it sounds wrong so it’s probably right.
A new study at Utah Valley University has found that requiring non-breakfast-eaters to eat breakfast resulted in higher caloric intake and weight gain.
The researchers wanted to establish the effects of eating breakfast on energy intake, physical activity, body weight, and body fat in women who are non-habitual breakfast eaters.
Over a four-week period, 49 women were divided into two groups, one of which would eat breakfast and one of which would skip it. Breakfast eaters were required to eat at least 15 per cent of their daily energy requirement before 8.30am. Non-breakfast eaters did not consume any energy until after 11.30am. Weight and body fat were assessed at the beginning of the study and after four weeks of intervention. Physical activity was measured throughout by a sensor that records movement.
On average, the participants who ate breakfast consumed 377 more calories a day over the course of the study and weighed 0.75kg more at the end of the study period. There was no observed caloric compensation at subsequent meals and no change in self-reported hunger.
There was also no physical activity compensation observed with the addition of breakfast.
The researchers say that a longer observation period would be required to properly evaluate the relationship between eating breakfast and weight gain, and if this would result in adaptive behaviour change over time.
This interesting study is unfortunately limited by the low number of individuals studied (49). That it is a randomised trial adds an element of applicability to the results; however, it is noteworthy that there is no standardisation of the exact breakfast eaten and there is a wide margin of error in the calorific intake reported.
Requiring non-breakfast-eaters to eat breakfast seemed to result in a higher overall calorie intake. There was little impact on physical activity when breakfast was added, although subjective feelings of energy at lunchtime were higher.
The duration of the study was unfortunately too short to say with certainty whether individuals would eventually adopt a change in behaviour (such as increasing physical activity or reducing calorific intake at other times) to compensate.
Research score: 3/5