Those who say they regularly breakfast are less likely to develop problems such as diabetes or become obese than people who report typically rushing out the door on an empty stomach, the new study shows.
Breakfast eaters are up to 55 percent less likely to have problems with insulin resistance or become obese than their non-breakfasting counterparts, the research suggests.
Although the best results came from eating whole-grain cereals and other nutritious breakfast items, "eating breakfast at all was preferential to not eating," says Linda Van Horn, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University and one of the authors of the study. It is to be presented March 6 at the American Heart Association's annual conference on cardiovascular disease epidemiology and prevention in Miami.
Someone who eats something early in the morning is less likely to fill up on sweet treats later in the day, she says. Van Horn notices she is much more tempted by the doughnuts around the coffee pot when she hasn't eaten something at home. When people eat something first thing in the morning, they "don't tend to fill up later on a whole lot of food," she says.
The researchers used data from people enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, which started in 1992. Those enrolled at the start of the study were 25 to 37 years of age. The study included 1,884 black and 2,059 white people who reported on their breakfasting (or lack thereof), and who were tested for insulin resistance. The participants were assessed for obesity, abnormal glucose, elevated blood pressure and lipid values over an eight-year period.
Although brand names of products or amounts ingested were not reported, participants were asked how often they ate breakfast, and to identify what they ate by groupings, such as hot cereal, processed cold cereals and the like. Forty-seven percent of whites and 22 percent of blacks reported regularly eating breakfast.
When compared to those who did not breakfast regularly, those who did were 37 percent to 55 percent less likely to develop insulin resistance syndrome -- frequently a precursor to diabetes -- and to become obese. They are also possibly less likely to develop heart disease, since diabetes often leads to heart disease, Van Horn says.
Although detailed information about what was eaten was not obtained, the researchers did take into consideration physical activity, smoking, age and gender and still found eating breakfast to be protective, she adds.
The researchers note that eating breakfast was protective for all participants, with the notable exception of black women, and they are at a loss to explain this.
"There may be biases we're not aware of," Van Horn says. Subgroups "may respond differently to questionnaires," she suggests. Another issue may be that "obese people tend to under-report" what they have eaten, and, "in the general population, black women are more likely to be obese."
In their abstract, the authors note this discrepancy in their findings must be further investigated.
Alice H. Lichtenstein, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University in Boston, says the study supplies interesting information, but "I think we need to know a lot more about dietary patterns."
She would like to see more detailed monitoring of what the young people ate, and their glucose levels. Still, there is an assumption, which this study seems to confirm, that eating in the morning "prevents binge eating" later in the day. "People have been told for years that you're better starting off your day with breakfast," Lichtenstein says.
The wise will heed this advice, which is easy and makes a difference, Van Horn concludes. "One simple thing you can do to cut heart risk in half is eat breakfast," she says.