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In the NY Times, Nicholas Bakalar writes:
The researchers examined the eating and exercise habits of 1,007 boys and 1,215 girls, with an average age of 15 at the start of the five-year study — a racially and economically diverse sample from public schools in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
The authors found a direct relationship between eating breakfast and body mass index; the more often an adolescent had breakfast, the lower the B.M.I. And whether they looked at the data at a given point or analyzed changes over time, that relationship persisted.
Why eating breakfast should lead to fewer unwanted pounds is unclear, but the study found that breakfast eaters consumed greater amounts of carbohydrates and fiber, got fewer calories from fat and exercised more. Consumption of fiber-rich foods may improve glucose and insulin levels, making people feel satisfied and less likely to eat more later in the day.
“Food consumption at breakfast does seem to influence activity,” said Donna Spruijt-Metz, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, who was not involved in the study. “Maybe kids eating breakfast get less refined foods and more that contain fiber. The influence of that on metabolism and behavior is something we’re still trying to sort out in my lab.”
For the study, which appears in the March issue of Pediatrics, the researchers recorded food intake using a well-established food frequency questionnaire and added specific questions about how often the teenagers ate breakfast.
They also included questions to determine the behavioral and social forces that might affect eating. For example, they asked whether the teenagers were concerned about their weight, whether they skipped meals to lose weight, whether they had ever been teased about their weight and how often they had dieted during the last year. They were also asked how much exercise they were getting.
About half the teenagers ate breakfast intermittently, but girls were more likely to skip breakfast consistently and boys more likely to eat it every day. Girls who consistently ate breakfast had an overall diet higher in cholesterol, fiber and total calories than those who skipped the meal; the boys who were consistent consumed more calories, more carbohydrates and fiber, and less saturated fat than their breakfast-skipping peers.
At the start of the study, consistent breakfast eaters had an average body mass index of 21.7, intermittent eaters 22.5, and those who never had breakfast 23.4. Over the next five years, B.M.I. increased in exactly the same pattern. The relationship persisted even after controlling for age, sex, race, socioeconomic status, smoking and concerns about diet and weight.
The authors acknowledge that the study depends on self-reports of weight and eating habits, which are not always reliable, and that even though they controlled for many variables, the study was observational, showing only an association between breakfast eating habits and body mass, not a causal relationship.
Still, Mark A. Pereira, a co-author of the study and an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota, said that eating a healthy breakfast would “promote healthy eating throughout the day and might help to prevent situations where you’re grabbing fast food or vending machine food.”
Dr. Pereira added that parents could begin to set a good example by sitting down to breakfast themselves. “The whole family structure is involved here,” he said.
source: this is Nicholas Bakalar’s article in the NY Times on 3/25/08. www.nytimes.com
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