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Teens should be eating this for better brains and healthier bodies

Eating breakfast is one of the key lifestyle factors linked to less body fat and better school grades among teens, according to four recent studies.

Ms Leigh Reeve, Accredited Practising Dietitian said the latest evidence showed teens who regularly ate breakfast had less body fat and were more likely to achieve high grades at school.

“Breakfast before school is a no brainer, especially for teens,” said Ms Reeve. “It sets them up for the day by fuelling their brains and helping to meet the nutritional needs of their rapidly-growing bodies. Worryingly, it’s during the teen years that breakfast skipping becomes far more common.”    

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows almost one in 10 Australian children and teens (nine per cent), aged two to 18 years, skip breakfast. The incidence of breakfast skipping jumps to almost one in five among 14-18 year olds (19 per cent).1

So why is breakfast important?

Skipping breakfast, even just once a week, has been associated with higher levels of body fat in two recent studies on teenagers.

A new longitudinal study from Brazil, examined the impact of negative lifestyle behaviours (breakfast skipping, poor sleep, not playing sport and television viewing) on body fat and insulin resistance of 280 adolescents, aged 10-18 years.2

The results, published in the journal Medicina, showed those who skipped breakfast or didn’t play sport had more body fat. Among those who skipped breakfast at least once a week (45 per cent of boys and 35 per cent of girls) their mean level of body fat was four per cent higher than those who always ate breakfast. The difference in body fat between those who did and didn’t play sport was also four per cent.

The study also showed sleep and a combination of the “risk” lifestyle factors was associated with an increase in insulin resistance.

Another recent study, published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, found school-aged children who regularly ate breakfast had less body fat than those who skipped breakfast, regardless of how active they were.3

The 12-month, observational study by Sao Paulo State University, followed 86 children, aged 11-14 years, tracking their dietary habits and physical activity.

Researchers found the children who ate breakfast regularly had less body fat (-2.3 per cent), especially around the waist (-3.5 per cent), compared with children who regularly skipped breakfast – and this was regardless of their level of physical activity. The children who were more physically active also had less fat around their waist.

Could breakfast, salad and exercise hold the key to better grades?

Teens who ate breakfast every day, clocked up an hour of physical activity daily or ate salad once a week, were more likely to achieve high grades, according to a recent US study.4

The cross-sectional study, published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports, examined the relationship between physical activity, sleep, diet, and academic performance among 4,625 high school students (aged 14-18 year-old) at 97 schools in Nevada, USA.

The researchers found students who ate breakfast every day were 72 per cent more likely to have achieved mostly As and Bs during the past school year, compared with those who did not eat breakfast every day (this accounted for sex, age, BMI, and ethnicity).

Eating salad once a week and being physically active for an hour a day increased the likelihood of having achieved mostly As and Bs by 24 per cent and 18 per cent respectively, compared with the teens who did not report these lifestyle behaviours.

While these single lifestyle factors were associated with a statistically significant lift in grades, a combination of healthy lifestyle factors also had a positive effect.

Does it really matter if parents eat breakfast?

A first-of-its-kind study has shown just how crucial it is for parents to set good eating habits, especially at breakfast time.5

Japanese researchers followed a nationally-representative sample of 43,663 children for 10 and a half years (from 18 months of age until they were 12 years) and found children whose parents skipped breakfast were far more likely to skip breakfast themselves.

Children whose mothers skipped breakfast were around two to three times (90-198 per cent) more likely to skip breakfast, compared to children whose mothers ate breakfast. When both parents skipped breakfast, the likelihood of children skipping breakfast was even higher (138–433 per cent).

The study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, also found that children who skipped breakfast had a significantly increased risk (18 –116 per cent) of being overweight or obese, compared to children who ate breakfast.

The researchers concluded; “There was a significant association between skipping breakfast in parents and children. Children who skipped breakfast had significantly increased risk of childhood overweight/obesity”.

Written by Leigh Reeve, Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian.
  1. Fayet-Moore F, McConnell A, Tuck K, Petocz P. Breakfast and breakfast cereal choice and its impact on nutrient and sugar intakes and anthropometric measures among a nationally representative sample of Australian children and adolescents. Nutrients 2017; 9:1045-60. Available at:
  2. Werneck AO, Agostinete RR, Cayres SU et al. Association between Cluster of Lifestyle Behaviors and HOMA-IR among Adolescents: ABCD Growth Study. Medicina 2018; 54(6): 96.
  3. Cayres SU, Urban JB, Fernandes RA. Physical activity and skipping breakfast have independent effects on body fatness among adolescents. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition 2018; 67(5):666–670.
  4. Burns RD, Fu Y, Brusseau TA, Clements-Nolle K, Yang W. Relationships among physical activity, sleep duration, diet, and academic achievement in a sample of adolescents. Preventive Medicine Reports 2018; 12:71-4.
  5. Okada C, Tabuchi T, Iso H. Association between skipping breakfast in parents and children and childhood overweight/obesity among children: a nationwide 10.5-year prospective study in Japan. International Journal of Obesity 2018; 42:1724-32.