Breakfast at home can prevent psychosocial health problems in young people

  • The debate over the importance of breakfast continues, with many experts insisting that breakfast is an essential part of a healthy diet.
  • Previous research has suggested that eating 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 teenagers.
  • The findings suggested that skipping breakfast or eating it outside the home was 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) almost 20% of children in the United States skip breakfast. Additionally, children from lower-income families and teens of any socioeconomic status are more likely to skip breakfast.

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

For young adults, eating a regular breakfast has been shown to be positively associated with school performance and academic achievement.

Now, a new study involving Spanish children and teenagers has found that eating breakfast at home is also linked to 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 adolescents in Spain was measured using a Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), with 5 subscales:

  1. emotional problems
  2. behavior problems
  3. hyperactivity
  4. peer problems
  5. prosocial behavior

Participants were scored in each domain, and a higher overall score indicated psychosocial problems. Breakfast eating habits, such as location and food choice, 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 several scientific articles. However, the fact that eating breakfast outside the home is associated with greater psychosocial health problems is a novel aspect of our study.”

The researchers divided the participants into 3 breakfast categories by country and whether they ate:

  1. in home
  2. outside the house
  3. no morning

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

Youth who skipped breakfast or ate breakfast outside the home had higher SDQ scores and a higher likelihood of psychosocial problems.

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

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

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

Researchers divided foods and drinks into 5 categories:

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

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

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

“Our results suggest the importance of eating this meal at home, if possible, including certain foods (eg, dairy, grains) while minimizing others (eg, processed meats) .

Dr. López-Gil noted other factors that may be involved in determining psychosocial health:

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

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

“Studies with different designs are needed to establish the direction of these associations (eg, longitudinal studies) or causal relationships (eg, intervention studies). Such designs may provide stronger evidence of this association and thus provide stronger public health recommendations.”

– Dr. López-Gil, a postdoctoral researcher 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 heading off to school?

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

“The study showed that things like eggs were not good. I usually suggest things that are higher in protein and lower in sugar for breakfast so the kids have more sustained energy. I don’t like high-fat breakfast foods – donuts, muffins, sugary cereals. I like yogurt, eggs, [and] low-sugar cereal.”

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

And dietary fiber, which is important for gut health, is linked to a lower likelihood of depression, so a breakfast of fiber-rich 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 boost their mental health, try oatmeal, yogurt, or whole-grain toast with peanut butter. If the budget allows, add some fruit or sugar-free juice to increase the vitamin content.

“I think breakfast is a really important meal even if it’s just a 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

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