Our parents and teachers have hammered the mantra into our heads for years: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But if you took a survey, you’d probably find that a lot of us are guilty of missing our morning meal.
Whether it’s because you’re rushing out the door to work, or you’re simply the type whose stomach needs to “wake up” before eating, chances are you’ve gone a day or two (maybe more!) without eating breakfast. But new research has found that skipping your first meal of the day may be worse for you than you think.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology has found that skipping breakfast is significantly associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular-related and stroke-related death. The study, which took into account a person’s age, sex, race, socioeconomic status, diet, lifestyle, body mass index (BMI), and disease status, found that those who never had breakfast had an 87 percent higher risk of cardiovascular mortality compared to people who ate breakfast every day.
Researchers used data from 1988 to 1994 on 6,550 U.S. adults aged 40-75 who’d reported how often they ate breakfast in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Separate data was collected and analyzed to determine the adults’ health status through 2011. Overall, 2,318 deaths occurred during an average follow-up period of 18.8 years, including 619 from cardiovascular disease. Researchers examined how often each person consumed breakfast and, after passing, whether or not their death was related to cardiovascular health.
Of the 6,550 adults, 5.1 percent never consumed breakfast, 10.9 percent rarely ate breakfast, 25 percent ate breakfast on some days, and 59 percent had breakfast every day. Final comparisons showed that those who never ate breakfast had a significantly higher risk of heart disease-related death and stroke-related death than their breakfast-eating counterparts, regardless of socioeconomic status, BMI, and cardiovascular risk factors. With cardiovascular diseases accounting for approximately one of every three deaths in the US according to the American Heart Association, the findings of the study have been significant in the health community, which has long been divided on the benefits of breakfast.
Though this study points to eating breakfast as a way to promote cardiovascular health, it’s important to note that the study only found a correlation between skipping breakfast and risk of early death, not acausation, meaning they can’t definitively say that missing the meal causes these specific outcomes. In fact, those who skip breakfast regularly may have other unhealthy lifestyle habits that contribute to their cardiovascular health problems. The study is also missing information on the types of foods or drinks that were consumed for breakfast, or whether a person’s breakfast consumption habits had changed between the first instance of data collection and the last.
More research is needed to determine whether or not skipping breakfast has an effect on life expectancy, and why this association exists in the first place. One thing we know for certain? It’s important to maintain healthy eating habits. If you struggle with managing a well-balanced and nutritious diet, or believe you may be at risk for cardiovascular disease, you should speak to your doctor.