Research trial reveals importance of breakfast in human health

June 6, 2014 by Andy Dunne
Credit: Shutterstock

Researchers from our Department for Health have conducted the first ever randomised controlled trial to examine the effect of regular daily breakfast when compared with extended morning fasting, to measure all components of energy balance.

Contrary to , they found little impact on snacking or later in the day and no evidence whatsoever of any change in resting metabolism. However, they did find that that those eating are likely to expend more energy during daily physical activities.

The findings, published today in the leading nutrition journal American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, are part of the Bath Breakfast Project, a randomised funded by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

As part of the three-year study, the team at Bath randomly allocated people aged between 21 and 60 years into either a 'fasting group' – who consumed no calories until lunchtime (12:00) everyday for six weeks – and a 'breakfast group' – prescribed at least 700 kcal by 11:00 daily for six weeks, with at least the first half consumed within two hours of waking.

Principal Investigator Dr James Betts explained: "The belief that breakfast is 'the most important meal of the day' is so widespread that many people are surprised to learn that there is a lack of scientific evidence showing whether or how breakfast may directly cause changes in our health.

"It is certainly true that people who regularly eat breakfast tend to be slimmer and healthier but these individuals also typically follow most other recommendations for a healthy lifestyle, so have more balanced diets and take more physical exercise. Our randomised controlled trial allowed us to find out whether breakfast is a cause, an effect or simply a marker of good health."

One key novel aspect of the experiment was the use of portable monitors to accurately measure participants' daily activities. Co-author Dr Dylan Thompson commented: "We previously found that these monitors are highly sensitive to changes in spontaneous low-to-moderate intensity activities and this new study shows that these are precisely the type of activities that differ depending on whether a person has or has not eaten in the morning."

Commenting on other research findings, Enhad Chowdhury added: "The common conception that breakfast may facilitate weight management by 'kick-starting metabolism' was not evident at all in our results, with resting metabolic rate stable within just 11 kilocalories per day from the start to the end of the intervention in both groups."

Through the study, the fasting group consumed around 20 per cent less energy than the breakfast group overall each day, indicating that they did not compensate for the energy missed at breakfast by eating more later on.

"It will now be interesting for further research to examine the long-term effects of different types of breakfast on weight management", Enhad Chowdhury added.

Finally, the study reports no negative cardiovascular effects of fasting until midday everyday for six weeks, but some interesting effects on metabolic control.

Dr Judith Richardson who managed the trial noted: "We assessed whole-body metabolic control in response to ingested sugar, which primarily reflects muscle metabolism, but we simultaneously tested glucose metabolism specific to fat tissue using biopsies taken from the same study volunteers."

These molecular assessments were complemented by data from a portable device that measured glucose levels, which revealed less tightly regulated glucose control during the afternoon and evening in the fasting group than in the breakfast group by the final week of the trial.

The second phase of this trial will report results from a more overweight study population.

Explore further: Study disputes notion that breakfast is key to weight control

More information: The open-access paper published in AJCN, 'The causal role of breakfast in energy balance and health: a randomized controlled trial in lean adults' is available online:

Related Stories

Study disputes notion that breakfast is key to weight control

June 5, 2014
(HealthDay)—New research refutes the common belief that skipping breakfast could contribute to obesity.

Exercise more beneficial on an empty stomach, research shows

October 30, 2012
Exercising before breakfast is better for you than exercising afterwards according to new research by scientists at the University of Glasgow.

Skipping breakfast may be healthy way to shed weight

July 22, 2013
If you skip breakfast, don't worry about overeating at lunch or the rest of the day, report Cornell nutritional scientists July 2 in the journal Physiology and Behavior. In fact, nixing breakfast a few times a week may be ...

Poor breakfast in youth linked to metabolic syndrome in adulthood

January 29, 2014
It is often said that breakfast is important for our health and a study conducted by Umeå University in Sweden, published in Public Health Nutrition supports this claim.

Two large meals better than six small meals for controlling weight, blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes

May 15, 2014
Research published in Diabetologia (the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes) suggests that two large meals (breakfast and lunch), rather than six small meals with the same total calories, are better ...

Big breakfast may be best for diabetes patients

September 26, 2013
(HealthDay)—A hearty breakfast that includes protein and fat may actually help people with type 2 diabetes better control both their hunger and their blood sugar levels.

Recommended for you

High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

July 21, 2017
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact ...

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Why sugary drinks and protein-rich meals don't go well together

July 20, 2017
Having a sugar-sweetened drink with a high-protein meal may negatively affect energy balance, alter food preferences and cause the body to store more fat, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Nutrition.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.