Here’s Why You Need to Stop Worrying About Skipping Breakfast

May 27th 2016

Laura Donovan

There's a common phrase that advises people to "eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper" — placing a premium on morning meals.

Health experts have touted the importance of breakfast for years, arguing that it boosts energy, speeds up one's metabolism, and also helps with weight control.

But Aaron E. Carroll, a health services researcher at Indiana University, is calling into question the idea that breakfast deserves to be put on a pedestal.


In a new piece for The New York Times, Carroll took issue with research that promoted breakfast, arguing that "this topic is one that suffers from publication bias." He cited a 2013 paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which looked at literature on breakfast's effect on obesity and concluded that the "belief in the [proposed effect of breakfast on obesity] exceeds the strength of scientific evidence."

Carroll argued:

"[The study authors] first noted that nutrition researchers love to publish results showing a correlation between skipping breakfast and obesity. [Nutrition researchers] love to do so again and again. At some point, there’s no reason to keep publishing on this."

Carroll added that many positive breakfast studies are financed by the food industry, which, of course, is looking to make a profit:

"Kellogg funded a highly cited article that found that cereal for breakfast is associated with being thinner. The Quaker Oats Center of Excellence (part of PepsiCo) financed a trial that showed that eating oatmeal or frosted cornflakes reduces weight and cholesterol (if you eat it in a highly controlled setting each weekday for four weeks)."


A photo posted by Kellogg's (@kelloggsus) on

Previous research supports the idea that the need for breakfast isn't so black and white after all. 

Research about breakfast can be misguided because it "tends to divide the world into those who skip, and those who don’t," David Katz, the founding director of Yale University's Griffin Prevention Research Center, wrote in a 2013 Huffington Post piece. Katz said that he often eats breakfast after his morning workout rather than first thing in the morning and that this habit is often misconstrued as "skipping" breakfast. He added that some breakfasts are also healthier than others. Certain breakfast foods, for example, are loaded with sugar and can cause hunger shortly thereafter.

"[Deferring] and skipping are not the same," Katz wrote. "Skipping despite hunger, and deferring for want of it, are not the same. And clearly all breakfasts are not created equal."


In 2014, New York Times writer Gretchen Reynolds reported on two studies that found breakfast did not necessarily lead to weight loss. The University of Alabama at Birmingham worked on one study that recruited 300 participants looking to lose weight and "randomly assigned subjects to either skip breakfast, always eat the meal, or continue with their current dietary habits," Reynolds wrote.

When the study ended 16 weeks later, no one lost a significant amount of weight. Reynolds wrote that weight in all groups was "unaffected by whether someone ate breakfast or skipped it."

Emily Dhurandhar, who led the study, told Reynolds that the research seemed to indicate that "breakfast may be just another meal" and that she will no longer "nag [her] husband to eat breakfast anymore."

So what should you do about breakfast?

Carroll summed up how best to approach breakfast:

"If you’re hungry, eat it. But don’t feel bad if you’d rather skip it, and don’t listen to those who lecture you. Breakfast has no mystical powers."

Read Carroll's full New York Times piece here.