Skipping breakfast can affect children’s psychosocial health

August 29, 2022

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Key findings

  • Skipping breakfast is associated with increased odds of psychosocial behavioral problems in children.
  • Eating breakfast outside the home has been shown to be almost as harmful as skipping it altogether.
  • Certain foods such as yogurt, coffee, and cereal are associated with a lower likelihood of psychosocial problems.

Eating a healthy breakfast can do a lot for children’s psychosocial health, according to researchers.

A cross-sectional study published in Limits in nutrition show that skipping breakfast or eating out is associated with higher odds of psychosocial behavioral problems.

Certain foods such as yogurt, coffee, and cereal are associated with a lower likelihood of psychosocial problems. Source: Adobe Stock.

“Our results show that it’s not only important to eat breakfast, but also where young people eat breakfast and what they eat,” Jose Francisco Lopez-Gil, Ph.D, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Cuenca, Spain, said in a press release. “Skipping breakfast or eating breakfast outside the home is associated with an increased likelihood of psychosocial behavioral problems in children and adolescents. Similarly, consumption of certain foods/beverages is associated with higher (eg, processed meat) or lower (eg, dairy, grains) odds of psychosocial behavioral problems.

Using data from the Spanish National Health Survey, López-Gil and colleagues analyzed the eating habits of 3,773 children aged 4 to 14 years. To gather information about psychosocial behavior, parents of the children in the study completed the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, reporting details about anxiety, self-esteem, mood, and more.

Almost every participant ate breakfast at home—98.9% ate breakfast at all and 95.8% ate it at home—and most had what the researchers considered normal psychosocial behaviors (87%). At 94.5%, the most commonly reported snacks were cereal, toast, pastries and bread.

The researchers found that children who regularly skipped breakfast faced much higher odds of having psychosocial behavioral problems—at least three times that of children who ate breakfast regularly (OR = 3.29; CI 95%, 1.47–7.35). Children who ate breakfast outside their homes were also significantly more likely to have behavioral problems (OR = 2.06; CI 95%, 1.27–3.33).

Because those who eat at home are more likely to do so with family members, the researchers write that social and family needs may influence the results.

“Family meals are family time that provides an opportunity for families to bond despite the continuing intense demands of modern life,” they noted. “Thus, current evidence points to positive associations between diet quality and physical, emotional and mental strength in young populations, suggesting the promotion of family meals with an emphasis on breakfast as a promising strategy.”

It’s more than just consuming calories, according to researchers. Different foods are associated with behavioral health outcomes; Children who regularly consume yoghurt, milk, tea, coffee, chocolate, cereals, toast, sweets and bread have been found to be less likely to experience psychosocial problems than those who do not consume such products (OR = 1.76; CI 95%, 1.21–2.55). Of note, cheese, ham, and eggs were also associated with a greater chance of psychosocial problems (OR = 0.56; CI 95%, 0.38–0.83).

The researchers wrote that they could not determine whether the relationships they observed suggested cause and effect, and stressed the need for future studies.

“The fact that eating breakfast outside the home is associated with greater psychosocial health problems is a novel aspect of our research,” López-Gil said in the release. “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 grains and minimizes certain animal foods high in saturated fat/cholesterol may help reduce psychosocial health problems in young people.


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