Daily breakfast may trump exercise for weight-loss

Contemporary PEDS JournalVol 36 No 1
Volume 36
Issue 1

A new study reveals that whereas physical activity can help prevent and combat childhood obesity, eating breakfast every day may have a more significant impact.

headshot of Rômulo Fernandes, MSc, PhD

Rômulo Fernandes, MSc, PhD

It's often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and now there is a new study to back its benefits.

New research from researchers in Brazil reveals that eating breakfast every day was associated with decreased body mass index (BMI) and body fatness in teenagers regardless of their physical activity level. Rômulo Fernandes, MSc, PhD, of São Paulo State University, São Paulo, Brazil, and co-author of the report, says he hopes the findings will help pediatricians spread the message to their patients about the importance of not skipping breakfast.

"I really believe that simple messages like this one-eat breakfast every day in order to control or reduce your weight-are effective because they do not require the effort of financial investment," Fernandes says. "Moreover, simple messages are easier to spread out among the general population, even among those with lower formal education, because breakfast is already a component of our routine instead of a new one, such as physical exercise and diet control. Finally, assuming this behavior, adolescents have an opportunity to share more time with their families in a healthy and enjoyable activity."

The role of nutrient consumption has been widely studied in regard to childhood obesity, but the impact of skipping breakfast has had less attention, Fernandes notes. The report, published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, reveals that about 45% of teenagers skip breakfast-a choice that is linked to higher BMI, increased trunk fatness, increased dyslipidemia and fasting glucose levels, and a greater prevalence of obesity among adolescents.

Exercise and physical activity can help mitigate these problems, but researchers found that whereas physical activity has an inverse relationship with trunk fatness, regular breakfast intake can help reduce body fat independent of physical activity levels.

The study was conducted through interviews with 86 teenagers, with body weight, body fatness, and trunk fatness assessed at both the initiation and conclusion of the project. Options for breakfast consumption were daily, 3 to 5 days each week, or no days at all. Physical activity levels also were tracked using pedometers.

Breakfast vs body fat

Researchers found that, at baseline, adolescents who consumed breakfast daily over a period of a year had lower BMI and body fatness than their peers who skipped breakfast sometimes or altogether. After a year, the difference was even more pronounced, with teenagers who ate breakfast regularly dropping trunk fatness and body fatness at a higher rate than their peers regardless of physical activity levels. The frequency of breakfast intake was negatively correlated with body fatness, according to the report, and researchers also noted a negative relationship between changes in physical activity and trunk fatness. 

The research team embarked on this investigation in an effort to investigate the impact of breakfast on childhood obesity, as well as the impact of some behaviors related to eating.

"Behaviors like parents and kids sitting around a table to eat breakfast are less common nowadays, being replaced by a frenetic morning with kids going to school and parents going to work. Even on the weekend, with no school and less or no work, the routine has been changed," Fernandes says. "Adolescence is an important phase in human development in which many behaviors are assumed-both good ones and bad ones. In that relative phase, different actors have influence in adolescents’ decisions, such as parents, teachers, and coaches. Pediatricians need to talk with all these actors in order to create a common message that should be enhanced by these people in all domains of an adolescent’s life."

Physiologically, Fernandes says the impact of regular breakfast consumption is more relevant than physical activity based on the chronic impact of breakfast on adiposity.

"Every single day kids sleep, and they awake the next morning and the opportunity to consume a breakfast happens, and this phenomenon happens every single day. On the other hand, physical exercise is a behavior that in the best scenario ever does not happen every day. Moreover, we have assessed physical activity measured by pedometer, which is a proxy of the amount of physical activity, and intensity was not taken into account," Fernandes says. "In fact, activities performed at moderate-to-vigorous intensity seem more effective in combating childhood obesity because they increase the daily energy expenditure. Step counts do not discriminate the intensity in which the physical activity has been performed limiting its impact of adiposity."

Fernandes says it's sometimes difficult to translate study findings into data that are useful for pediatricians to share with their patients, but the simplicity of these findings can have a great impact on pediatric health.


"Many parents do not have the time to share the table with their kids every morning, and this simple act seems relevant in the combat of childhood obesity," Fernandes says. "Pediatricians should advise parents to share this healthy behavior every single day with their kids. According to our findings, moreso than medicines, eating breakfast every morning seems a relevant behavior in order to prevent and treat obesity."



1. Cayres SU, Urban JB, Fernandes RA. Physical activity and skipping breakfast have independent effects on body fatness among adolescents. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2018;67(5):666-670.

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