The theory that breakfast is the most important meal of the day may not hold true, research suggests.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that those who eat breakfast consume significantly more calories than those who skip the meal – and end up weighing more.
For decades, health experts have exhorted people not to miss breakfast, with warnings that those trying to keep their weight down by missing a meal will simply end up snacking more later. But the new study, led by Australian researchers, found that those who skipped breakfast consumed an average of 260 fewer calories per day.
Previous studies have suggested that eating breakfast fires up the metabolism and can help dieters stop overeating later in the day. NHS advice warns: “Some people skip breakfast because they think it will help them lose weight. In fact, research shows that people who regularly eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight.”
However, the new study found that those who skipped breakfast did not compensate by eating more later in the day and there were no significant difference in metabolic rates between breakfast eaters and skippers.
Experts from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, examined 13 randomized controlled trials related to breakfast and weight in high income countries, including the U.K.
Most of the studies tracked participants for less than a month. On average, those who skipped breakfast were a pound lighter than those who did not.
The researchers wrote: “This study suggests that the addition of breakfast might not be a good strategy for weight loss regardless of established breakfast habit. Caution is needed when recommending breakfast for weight loss in adults, as it could have the opposite effect.”
However, they said eating breakfast could have other important effects, such as improving concentration and attentiveness in children.
Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, said the mantra of breakfast being the most important meal of the day had been ingrained in most people from childhood and reinforced by campaigns such as “go to work on an egg”. But he said the findings suggested it was “just another diet myth”.
“The British fry-up is thought by many to be the country’s main contribution to world cuisine,” he said. “We are told that breakfast helps our metabolism and that skipping it will make us much hungrier so we’ll overeat.
“Reasonable evidence now suggests that skipping breakfast can actually be a useful strategy to reduce weight.”