Skipping breakfast can affect children’s psychosocial health

August 29, 2022

3 min reading

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Key relationships

  • Skipping breakfast was associated with increased likelihood of psychosocial behavior problems in children.
  • Eating breakfast outside the home was shown to be just as harmful as skipping it altogether.
  • Certain foods such as yogurt, coffee, and cereal were associated with a lower probability of 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 Limits in nutrition showed that missing breakfast or eating out was associated with higher odds of psychosocial behavior problems.

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

“Our results suggest that it’s not only important to eat breakfast, but also 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 outside the home is associated with increased likelihood of psychosocial behavior 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 behavior 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 children who participated in the study completed the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, reporting details about the child’s anxiety, self-esteem, mood, and more.

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

The researchers found that children who regularly skip breakfast face much higher odds of having psychosocial behavior problems – at least three times more than children who regularly eat breakfast (OR = 3.29; 95% CI, 1.47-7.35 ). Children who ate breakfast away from their homes were also significantly more likely to have behavior 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 influence the results.

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

According to researchers, there is more to it than just consuming calories. Different foods were associated with behavioral health outcomes; Children who regularly consumed yogurt, milk, tea, coffee, chocolate, cereal, 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; 95% CI, 1.21– 2.55). Notably, cheese, bacon, and eggs were also associated with a higher odds of psychosocial issues (OR = 0.56; 95% CI, 0.38–0.83).

The researchers wrote that they could not determine whether the relationships they observed implied cause and effect and underscored 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 study,” López-Gil said in the release. “Our findings reinforce the need to promote not only breakfast as part of a healthy lifestyle, but also that it should be eaten at home. Also, to prevent psychosocial health problems, a breakfast that includes dairy and/or whole grains, and minimizes certain animal foods high in saturated fat/cholesterol, may help reduce psychosocial health problems in youth.


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