Schools have been getting back in session the last couple of weeks and students are making new commitments to ensure a successful year. Some are vowing to complete and turn in (on time) every homework assignment. Others are saying they will work harder to be better organized. A few are even promising to get to bed earlier on school nights. But the one thing I’d like to hear more of from students, especially those in high school, is a pledge to eat something — anything — for breakfast each morning.
They don’t have to eat much, either. A bowl of cereal, a piece of toast and milk, a half a banana — last night’s pizza. (Just eat something!) Just some fuel to power their bodies and brains enough through the first few periods of the school day. Studies have shown better academic performance in children and teenagers who eat breakfast compared to those who don’t. And now there is evidence that eating a breakfast that is high in protein can actually prevent gains in body fat which can lead to overweight and obesity.
There are two main reasons why kids don’t eat breakfast. (We will leave alone the sad fact that some kids live without food security and don’t have much food to eat in their homes.) The first is that eating breakfast takes time — something a lot of teens say they don’t have a lot of in the mornings. The second reason is that eating breakfast, after many hours of overnight fasting, causes strong and sometimes painful abdominal cramps in most people. These cramps are nothing more that your body saying, “I have to poop!” But, then, of course, we come back to the first reason: there is no time to do that. Better to not eat than to take the time to eat and have a sit-down before getting on the school bus (or worse, having to go to the bathroom while you’re in school).
Researchers from the University of Missouri estimate that about 60% of teenagers skip breakfast four times a week. With prior studies showing that overweight and obese teenagers gain weight when they skip breakfast, these researchers looked at the weight of 57 obese teenagers when they were given breakfast every day. Stephen Feller says the 12-week study divided teens into three groups and measured their weight, BMI, and blood glucose level:
One group ate a high-protein breakfast of eggs, dairy and lean pork that contained 35 grams of protein; The second group was fed a normal breakfast of cereal in milk, which contains 13 grams of protein; and the third group was permitted to continue to skip breakfast as they normally would.
Participants in the study tracked how hungry they felt and exactly what they ate each day during the 12 weeks. Researchers checked body weight and BMI at the beginning and end of the study, as well as asking the teens to wear a device that tracked their blood glucose level.
The group that ate the high protein breakfast every day achieved lower body masses and reduced their daily food intake by 400 calories by improving appetite control at the end of 12 weeks! By contrast, the other two groups – one that ate less protein at breakfast and the other that continued to eat nothing — gained body mass as body fat and more erratic blood glucose levels.
So put some peanut butter on that toast, pour some walnuts or granola in that oatmeal or yogurt, drink a homemade smoothie, grab a homemade granola bar with that glass of milk, or scramble up some eggs. But maybe skip the cold pizza!
More PediaBlog on the importance of a good breakfast here.