Skipping Breakfast: Increasing Odds of Psychosocial Issues Among Teens


For many good reasons, breakfast is deemed ‘the most important meal of the day.’ It literally means “to break the fast,” As the name suggests, breakfast breaks the stretch of not eating overnight. It recharges your body’s glucose supply to boost energy levels and alertness while providing other essential nutrients for good health.

Several studies have demonstrated the health benefits of eating breakfast, including improving energy levels and short-term concentration, encouraging better weight management, and reducing the risk of certain diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease in the long term. 

However, despite its benefits for health and well-being, many people still opt to skip it for various reasons. A recent study in Frontiers in Nutrition looked at the link between breakfast habits and health outcomes, particularly examining whether breakfast status, place, and habits are associated with psychosocial and behavioral problems among teens. The study found interesting insights that we will explore in this article.

Psychosocial Health and Breakfast Consumption

Psychosocial health is broadly defined as psychological and social outcomes linked with socioeconomic factors and characteristics such as self-esteem and mood and affect, such as anxiety.

The link between eating breakfast and psychosocial health in young people has been previously studied. However, the association between breakfast places and breakfast habits concerning psychosocial and behavioral problems in young people remains unknown to date.

Interestingly, a review study suggested that the social context plays an important role in breakfast consumption. Similarly, eating at home favors the accessibility and availability of different foods, in addition to the key socio-cultural scenario that family meals represent since they provide a setting in which parents/guardians often control children’s behaviors, interact with them, and impose rules and expectations on them.

Considering these factors, the study aimed to examine whether breakfast status, place, and habits are associated with psychosocial and behavioral problems. The researchers analyzed data from the 2017 Spanish National Health Survey, which included questionnaires examining breakfast habits and children’s psychosocial health, including characteristics such as self-esteem, mood, and anxiety. The questionnaires were fulfilled by the children’s parents or guardians, with results including a total of 3,772 Spanish residents aged 4 to 14.

Based on the analysis of the available data and after adjustment for several sociodemographic, anthropometric, and lifestyle factors, the researchers found that skipping breakfast, eating breakfast away from home, and some eating breakfast habits were linked with higher or lower chances of psychosocial, behavioral problems among the young population.

Interestingly, one of the findings states that eating breakfast away from home is equally detrimental as skipping the meal entirely. The researchers suggest that this may be because meals away from home are commonly less nutritious than those prepared at home.

The results also demonstrate that coffee, milk, tea, chocolate, cocoa, yogurt, bread, toast, cereals, and pastries were all linked to reduced behavioral problems and risks. On the other hand, eggs, cheese, and ham were associated with increased risks of such issues.

Why Breakfast Consumption Causes Psychosocial Issues 

Although the underlying mechanism behind the association between breakfast habits and decreased psychosocial and behavioral problems remains unclear, the researchers suggest certain mechanisms that can help explain the association.

The researchers suggested that the association between skipping breakfast and higher odds of psychosocial behavioral problems may arise due to not obtaining the nutrients lost with the rest of the day’s meals. Additionally, the young population who skip breakfast may make up for their daily energy intake by eating more energy-dense foods during the rest of the day or lunch. The said factors could lead to an unhealthy and poor-quality diet, which has been linked with depression or poorer psychosocial health in the young population.

Social context, such as breakfast at home, may also play an important role in breakfast intake, as it seems to be linked with higher quality breakfast consumption, which can potentially explain why eating breakfast away from home contributes to psychosocial issues. One study also emphasized the importance of the protective role of regular family meals for psychosocial health. Since family meals allow parents to have time to connect with their children through feelings of closeness and belonging, parents lose this chance when their children eat breakfast away from home. 

On the other hand, the link between breakfast habits and higher chances of psychosocial behavioral problems may be explained by the nutrients they get from the food they consume during breakfast, which is especially necessary for growing individuals.

In sum, the study’s findings demonstrate the importance of promoting a healthy breakfast at home, preferably with the family and in a relaxed atmosphere, as it fosters healthy relationships among family members and facilitates the acquisition of good habits among the young population.

Journal Reference

López-Gil, J. F., Smith, L., López-Bueno, R., & Tárraga-López, P. J. (2022). Breakfast and psychosocial behavioural problems in young population: The role of status, place, and habits. Frontiers in Nutrition, 9. 

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