October 6, 2022

Skipping breakfast may impact children’s psychosocial health

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August 29, 2022

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Key takeaways

  • Skipping breakfast was associated with increased odds of psychosocial behavioral issues in children.
  • Eating breakfast away from home was shown to be nearly as harmful as skipping it altogether.
  • Some foods like yogurt, coffee and cereals were associated with a lower likelihood for psychosocial problems.

Eating a healthy breakfast can go a long way for children’s psychosocial health, according to researchers.

A cross-sectional study published in Frontiers in Nutrition showed that missing breakfast or eating away from home was linked to higher odds of psychosocial behavioral problems.

Continental Breakfast
Some foods like yogurt, coffee and cereals were associated with a lower likelihood for psychosocial problems. Source: Adobe Stock.

“Our results suggest that it is not only important to eat breakfast, but it’s also important where young people eat breakfast and what they eat,” José Francisco López-Gil, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Cuenca, Spain, said in a press release. “Skipping breakfast or eating breakfast away from home is associated with increased likelihood of psychosocial behavioral problems in children and adolescents. Similarly, consumption of certain foods/drinks are associated with higher (eg, processed meat) or lower (eg, dairies, cereals) odds of psychosocial behavioral problems.”

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

Nearly every participant ate breakfast at home — 98.9% ate breakfast overall and 95.8% ate it at home — and most had what researchers deemed normal psychosocial behavior (87%). At 94.5%, the most reported breakfast meals were cereals, toast, pastries and bread.

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

Because those who ate at home were more likely to do so with family members, the researchers wrote that social and family needs may factor into the results.

“Family meals are a family time that provides an opportunity for families to connect despite the ongoing intense demands of modern life,” they noted. “Thus, current evidence indicates positive relations between diet quality and physical, emotional and mental strength in the young population, suggesting, as a promising strategy, the promotion of family-based meals, with a focus on breakfast.”

There is more to it than just consuming calories, according to the researchers. Different foods were associated with behavioral health outcomes; children who regularly consumed yogurt, milk, tea, coffee, chocolate, cereals, toast, pastries and bread were found to be less likely to experience psychosocial problems than those who did not consume such items (OR = 1.76; CI 95%, 1.21–2.55). Notably, cheese, ham and eggs were also linked to a higher chance of psychosocial issues (OR = 0.56; CI 95%, 0.38–0.83).

The researchers wrote that they could not establish whether the relationships they observed imply cause and effect and underscored the need for future studies.

“The fact that eating breakfast away from home is associated with greater psychosocial health problems is a novel aspect of our study,” 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 cereals, and minimizes certain animal foods high in saturated fat/cholesterol, could help to decrease psychosocial health problems in young people.”

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