Breakfast at home may prevent psychosocial health problems among youth

  • The debate over the importance of breakfast continues, with many experts insisting that eating in the morning is an essential part of a healthy diet.
  • Previous research suggests that breakfast may be particularly important for young people, fueling them for a day at school.
  • Now a new Spanish study has found that eating a balanced breakfast at home can lead to better psychosocial health in children and adolescents.
  • The findings show that skipping breakfast or eating it outside the home is associated with a higher risk of physical and mental health problems.

As is often said, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

But according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) nearly 20% of children in the United States skip breakfast. What’s more, children from lower-income families and teens of all socioeconomic status are more likely to skip breakfast.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children and teens eat breakfast for a healthier body weight, improved nutrition, better memory, better test scores, and better attention. Breakfast helps ensure a balance of nutrients throughout the day, which can be more difficult to achieve if breakfast is skipped.

For young people, regular breakfast has been shown to be positively associated with performance at school and academic achievement.

Now, a new study involving Spanish children and adolescents has found that eating breakfast at home is also associated with better psychosocial health. The results were recently published in the journal Limits in nutrition.

Psychosocial health is a term used to describe emotional, social and physical well-being. It includes psychological well-being as well as social and collective well-being.

In the new study, the psychosocial health of 3,772 children and teenagers in Spain was measured using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) with 5 subscales:

  1. emotional problems
  2. behavior problems
  3. hyperactivity
  4. problems with peers
  5. prosocial behavior

Participants were scored in each domain and a higher total score indicated psychosocial problems. Breakfast eating habits, such as location and food choices, were also assessed.

Dr. José Francisco López-Gil, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Spain and lead author of the study, said Medical News Today:

“The link between skipping breakfast and psychosocial health problems has been previously described in the literature in some research papers. But the fact that eating breakfast outside the home is associated with greater psychosocial health problems is a new aspect of our research.

Researchers divided participants into 3 breakfast categories based on where and whether they ate:

  1. at home
  2. outside the home
  3. without breakfast

All scores were collected from the parent-administered SDQ questionnaire. Of the participants, 98.9% had breakfast, of which 95.8% did so at home.

Young people who skipped breakfast or had breakfast outside the home had higher SDQ scores and a greater likelihood of psychosocial problems.

“The likelihood of having psychosocial health problems was higher for breakfast status (ie breakfast or skipping breakfast) followed by breakfast location (ie at home or away from home) than for type of food for breakfast.”

– Dr. López-Gil, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Castilla-La Mancha and lead author of the study

The study assessed what young people ate using guidelines from the Spanish National Health Survey.

Researchers divide foods and beverages into 5 categories:

  1. coffee, milk, tea, chocolate, cocoa, yogurt, etc.
  2. bread, toast, cookies, cakes, etc.
  3. fruit, juice or both
  4. eggs, cheese, ham, etc.
  5. other foods

The researchers then looked at the effects that different foods might have on psychosocial health.

“Not eating certain food groups, such as dairy or grains, is associated with greater psychosocial health problems, while not eating others (eg, processed meat) is associated with lower psychosocial problems,” Dr. Lopez- Gil said.

“Our results show the importance of this diet, if possible at home, to include certain foods (e.g. dairy products, grains) and minimize others (e.g. processed meats).”

Dr. Lopez-Gil pointed out other factors that can be included in determining psychosocial health:

“One possible reason justifying these results is that eating at home (usually accompanied by family members) may offer a formal [or] informal time in which parents [or] caregivers could relate to their children’s emotional well-being.

Similarly, Dr. López-Gil noted that eating out “was associated with energy-dense and high-fat food consumption, as well as micronutrient deficiencies, which could (at least partially) explain this finding.”

“Studies with different designs are needed to establish the direction of these associations (eg, longitudinal studies) or causality (eg, intervention studies). Such designs could provide more robust evidence for this association and thus provide stronger public health recommendations.

– Dr. López-Gil, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Castilla-La Mancha and lead author of the study

If a balanced breakfast eaten at home is best for psychosocial health, what should young people eat before they start school?

Dr. Gina Posner, a board-certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, said MNT:

“Research has shown that things like eggs are not good. I usually offer things higher in protein and less sugar for breakfast so the kids have longer lasting energy. I don’t like high-fat breakfast foods—doughnuts, muffins, sugary cereals. I love yogurt, eggs, [and] low-sugar cereals.”

A 2007 study suggests that a breakfast high in tryptophan, found in dairy products, oats, nuts and seeds, may help with quality sleep and mental health in children. In addition to providing tryptophan, dairy products contain vitamin D, which is associated with lower levels of anxiety.

And dietary fiber, which is important for gut health, has been linked to lower chances of depression, so a breakfast of high-fiber foods like whole grains and breads, fruits, nuts, and seeds is especially helpful.

For a cost-effective breakfast that will set kids up for the day and help improve their mental health, try oatmeal, yogurt, or whole-wheat toast with peanut butter. If the budget allows, add some fruit or unsweetened juice to increase the vitamin content.

“I think breakfast is a really important meal, even if it’s just a quick piece of toast with some peanut butter. It really helps mentally to have some energy.

– Dr. Gina Posner, board-certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center

Leave a Comment