Now Can We Stop Pushing Breakfast?

Pushing breakfast as the most important meal of the day has endured for more than a century — despite thin evidence to support the claim. The association between breakfast skipping and weight gain is one that has been repeated so often that it’s been accepted and repeated as cause and effect by experts who should be more discerning.

Now we can stop.

A distinguished group of researchers led by Emily Dhurandhar from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has published a robust study proving that advice to skip breakfast — or not — has no impact on weight gain or loss. They randomized 309 subjects to either get advice to eat breakfast, to not eat breakfast, or no advice about breakfast at all.

People mostly reported following the advice that they were given, but the advice made no difference in the amount of weight gained or lost between the three groups. Dhurandhar commented, saying:

Now that we know the general recommendation of “eat breakfast every day” has no differential impact on weight loss, we can move forward with studying other techniques for improved effectiveness.

Senior author on the UAB paper was David Allison, who said:

The field of obesity and weight loss is full of commonly held beliefs that have not been subjected to rigorous testing; we have now found that one such belief does not seem to hold up when tested. This should be a wake-up call for all of us to always ask for evidence about the recommendations we hear so widely offered.

Another well-controlled study published simultaneously in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition was entirely consistent in its findings. People in the Bath Breakfast Project, randomized to breakfast or fasting until noon, had the same weight outcomes regardless of whether they ate breakfast or not. Those who ate breakfast took in more more daily calories, but they also burned more calories, so weight status was no different between the two groups.

One thing for sure, breakfast might not be so important for weight loss, but it has become quite important for the fast food industry. Sales of lunch and dinner have been stagnant for years. So now the last frontier for selling us more fast food is breakfast. Breakfast sales are growing steadily.

But those party poopers at UAB have just taken away our rationalization for stopping at the drive-through to get an Egg McMuffin.

Click here to read the UAB study and here to read the Bath Breakfast Project study. Click here to read more in Time about how important breakfast has become to the fast food industry.

Egg McMuffin, photograph from Evan-Amos / Wikimedia

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9 Responses to “Now Can We Stop Pushing Breakfast?”

  1. June 05, 2014 at 10:37 am, Todd M Weber said:

    I understand that “pushing” breakfast onto individuals who do not habitually consume breakfast may not be the best advice for weight loss but what about for those individuals interested in weight maintenance (Wyatt HR, 2002) or preventing weight gain (Purslow LR, 2007)? I do not have access to the papers you are referencing so I cannot be sure of the exact parameters and methods of the selected studies but isn’t it a bit surprising that the breakfast skippers would not lose weight if operating at a relative caloric deficit? In addition, in your article you state that

    “People in the Bath Breakfast Project, randomized to breakfast or fasting until noon, had the same weight outcomes regardless of whether they ate breakfast or not. Those who ate breakfast took in more more daily calories, but they also burned more calories, so weight status was no different between the two groups.”

    If I have the opportunity to eat more food and weigh the same, why am I not going to take that opportunity? After all, I think it is safe to assume that most people like eating food. Couldn’t your headline also read “Breakfast eaters consume significantly more calories than breakfast skippers: cheers to breakfast!”

  2. June 06, 2014 at 9:43 pm, VELDERRAIN, MD said:

    Más bien a lo que se refiere el estudio, es que el total de calorías a lo largo del día fueron las mismas, sólo que no se consumieron en el mismo horario.., pero que al final del día, el resultado del balance gasto-ingesta fué casi el mismo…, por lo que no influyó en la modificación del peso corporal.
    Sin embargo, debemos de tener en cuenta que únicamente se está evaluando la ganancia de peso.., no se están considerando otras ventajas o beneficios metabólicos del desayuno, entre las que se encuentran la energía necesaria para evitar la hipoglicemia, el funcionamiento adecuado cerebral (que lo hace únicamente con glucosa), el mantenimiento adecuado de cifras de glicemia durante el día (así como la disponibilidad y uso adecuado de insulina por el cuerpo),la circulación de ácidos grasos durante la hipoglicemia matutina,etc.
    Creo que valdría la pena efectuar más estudios al respecto y verificar todos los parámetros metabólicos que se modifican con “evitar el desayuno o saltarse el desayuno”, tales como el perfil lipídico y las variaciones en la glicemia, que podrían ser los principales factores que nos llevarían a un aumento en el riesgo cardiovascular debido a las horas de ayuno matutino.
    Por otro lado ,también se vió en otro estudio (,
    que la mayoría de las personas que se saltaban el desayuno, eran personas con malos hábitos de vida, divorciados, solteros, bebedores, fumadores, etc…,y lo cual podría dar un sesgo muy importante para influenciar los resultados del estudio.
    En fin, yo creo que una persona que tenga una actividad física matutina regular, desde moderada hacia adelante, no podría de cualquier manera “saltarse el desayuno”, sin sentir las consecuencias de la hipoglicemia debido a la energía gastada en su actividad física matutina. Por lo que estas personas por lo general desayunan.

    “Eating breakfast is associated with a decreased risk of heart attacks. Incorporating many types of healthy foods into your breakfast is an easy way to ensure your meal provides adequate energy and a healthy balance of nutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. For example, adding nuts and chopped fruit to a bowl of whole grain cereal or steel-cut oatmeal in the morning is a great way to start the day.” (



    • June 06, 2014 at 10:48 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks for sharing this perspective. It’s worth noting that the study you referenced found an association between heart disease and skipping breakfast, not a cause and effect relationship. Many associations in nutrition turn out not to be a matter of cause and effect. So I think until we have contrary evidence, those who like to eat breakfast (I do) should do so. Those who prefer to skip, can do so without expecting that great harm will befall them.

  3. June 07, 2014 at 12:27 am, VELDERRAIN, MD said:

    I totally agree with you..!
    Thanks for your reply.

  4. June 07, 2014 at 3:19 pm, Rose A. said:

    I complete agree: a statistical association does not necessarily mean: a causal relationship.
    And the study cited here confirmes my experience and beliefes.
    However: how do You explain the many times, where there was a statistical association between having breakfast an weight loss (or vice versa?) How could it happen???

    • June 07, 2014 at 4:58 pm, Ted said:

      When a certain behavior is deemed to be healthier or to promote weight control, then people who are seeking a healthier weight are more likely to engage in that behavior. People who are seeking to adopt one healthy habit are likely to adopt other healthy habits. Thus an association arises because people who eat breakfast are more likely to be engaging in other healthy habits. That would be my hypothesis.

  5. June 07, 2014 at 5:21 pm, Rose A. said:

    well, that might be one way.
    Allthough I am not sure, what the ratio is between:
    havng breakfast as a habit / starting to have breakfast again.
    I mean, breakfast in many cases might not be a sign of seeking to adopt a healthier lifestyle…
    anyway, it gives me some grasp!
    Thank You again!

    • June 07, 2014 at 5:24 pm, Ted said:

      And, of course, I am no more sure than you are. But it’s interesting to think about. Thanks, Rose!