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Skip Breakfast, Pack on the Pounds

Teens who start the day with a healthful meal tend to stay trimmer, study suggests

MONDAY, March 3 (HealthDay News) -- For teens looking to keep weight off, it doesn't have to be a breakfast of champions, but it should be some kind of breakfast -- and preferably a healthy one.

Yet another study is confirming that adolescents who skip breakfast have a higher risk of being overweight.

"There's a pretty significant inverse association between how frequently kids report eating breakfast and how much weight they gain over time, and we took into account other dietary factors and physical activity," said Mark Pereira, co-author of the study, published in the March issue of Pediatrics.

"It's interesting to note that the kids who eat breakfast on a daily basis overall have a much better diet and are more physically active," Pereira said.

Added Dr. Peter Richel, chief of pediatrics at Northern Westchester Hospital Center in Mount Kisco, N.Y.: "Grandma and Mom are right. When we skip breakfast, especially in the teenage years, then kids tend to snack and graze."

More than one-third of teens aged 12 to 19 are now overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. And over the past two decades, the proportion of children who are overweight has doubled; among teens, the proportion has tripled, according to background information with the study.

An estimated 12 percent to 34 percent of children and adolescents skip breakfast on a regular basis, a number that increases with age. Previous studies have linked breakfast skipping with a greater tendency to gain weight.

"There has been quite a lot of published scientific literature already on the relationship between breakfast habits in both children as well as adults and obesity risk," said Pereira, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. "It's pretty darn consistent in the literature that people who eat breakfast are at lower risk for obesity, but most of those studies have some methodological limitations."

The new study was both cross-sectional and prospective -- moving forward in time. More than 2,000 adolescents were followed for five years. Participants completed detailed surveys on their eating patterns and also provided information on their height, weight, body-mass index and physical activity.

The more often a person ate breakfast, the less likely he or she was to be overweight or obese.

"We can't make definitive statements about cause and effect," said Pereira. But the evidence seems to point that way, he added.

"What happens is that total fat and saturated fat as a percentage of total daily energy were lower in the breakfast eaters compared with breakfast skippers," Richel explained. "This really shows that we have the potential to improve energy balance and weight control with healthy breakfast consumption. We're not talking pop-tarts."

In another Pediatrics article, researchers reported that an Internet-based program helped keep teens' weight in check over the short term and also reduced binge eating. Those who participated in the program also had less concern about their weight and shape, compared with teens who did not participate, suggesting that the program may lower the risk for eating disorders.

The 16-week program included education, behavioral modification, journaling, discussion and motivational messages.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on childhood overweight and obesity.

SOURCES: Mark Pereira, Ph.D., associate professor, epidemiology and community health, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; Peter Richel, M.D., chief, pediatrics, Northern Westchester Hospital Center, Mount Kisco, N.Y.; March 2008 Pediatrics

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