Of all the lessons I learned and promptly forgot in middle school health class, the one that managed to stay with me is the importance of eating breakfast every morning. My gym teacher spent several lectures on food pyramids, extolling the virtues of eating a well-balanced breakfast and how it would provide me with the the much-needed energy to tackle my day. He didn’t need to tell me twice: I am a breakfast enthusiast, mostly because I will take any excuse to eat eggs. However, not everyone lives by my middle school teacher’s rules: a 2011 survey found that 31 million Americans skip out on what is arguably the tastiest meal of the day. And according to recent research, that may not be ideal. A new study found that skipping breakfast was linked with a higher risk for death from heart disease.
The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, collecting information from 6,550 middle-aged individuals without a history of heart disease and following up with them over several years. The survey asked the subjects how often they ate breakfast: 59% said they ate it every day, 25% said they breakfast some days, 10.9% rarely ate breakfast, and 5.1% said they never ate breakfast.
After adjusting for variables like age, sex, socioeconomic status, and other dietary and lifestyle factors, the researchers found there was an 87% increased risk of death from a cardiovascular disease for the participants who never consumed breakfast, versus the group that ate breakfast every day. The researchers noted that missing breakfast was linked to, among other things, changes in appetite, lower reported levels of feeling full and satisfied with meals, and elevated blood pressure.
"Our findings are in line with and supported by previous studies that consistently showed that skipping breakfast is related to those strong risk factors for cardiovascular death," Dr. Wei Bao, senior author of the study, told CNN.
But it’s also important to note that, as with the great ongoing egg debate, the scientific community is constantly flip-flopping on the nutritional benefits and importance of breakfast. One day, a study will find that skipping breakfast is linked to “metabolic impairment,” which may increase the risk for type 2 diabetes. The next, another study will find little to no difference in the metabolic rates of breakfast believers versus skippers. The new study's data also didn’t go into what kinds of foods or the quality of breakfast that was being regularly consumed by participants, which could impact the results.
Still, considering that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the study’s finding that eating breakfast may somehow support heart health is notable. While there's no definitive answer on the subject, and there's no right or wrong way to approach your daily food habits, it probably wouldn't hurt to try to eat something before you head out the door in the morning.