Children who skip breakfast are three times more likely to develop behavioural problems, a study suggests.
Breakfast used to be considered the most important meal of the day, giving the brain and body the fuel it needs for the day ahead.
But people have started to doubt that idea in recent years because studies have shown how intermittent fasting can boost longevity.
Now, a study suggests that cutting out morning meals can more than treble the risk of problems including anxiety, low self-esteem and poor mood, in young people.
Researchers surveyed parents of 3,700 children aged four to 14 in Spain to see how eating habits impacted their mental health.
They also found eating breakfast at cafes or restaurants raised the risk compared to having the meal at home.
The authors said skipping breakfast could cause the issues because children can’t get enough nutrients during the rest of the day, starving them of energy.
Author Dr Jose Francisco Lopez-Gil of the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Cuenca said children should get milk and cereal at breakfast every day to minimise the risk.
Children who skip breakfast are three times more likely to develop behavioural problems, a study suggests
He said: ‘Our results suggest that it is not only important to eat breakfast, but it’s also important where young people eat breakfast and what they eat.
‘Skipping breakfast or eating breakfast away from home is associated with increased likelihood of psychosocial behavioral problems in children and adolescents.
‘Similarly, consumption of certain foods or drinks are associated with higher or lower odds of psychosocial behavioral problems.’
The study, published in Frontiers in Nutrition, surveyed parents of 3,772 children in Spain in 2017.
They were asked whether their child regular ate or skipped breakfast and whether they ate it at home or at a cafe or restaurant.
Parents were also asked what their child would eat, ranging from coffee, tea, milk and yoghurts, to eggs, cheese or ham.
Breads, toast, cookies and pastries were other options in the questionnaire, while parents could also note down fruit, juice or ‘other foods’.
Finally, they were asked questions about their children’s behavioural and social problems.
The survey asked if they suffered from one of 25 issues, including hyperactivity, emotional issues or difficulties with friends.
Researchers took the total responses across the 25 questions to score the children in on overall psychosocial behavioural problems.
They also recorded children’s age, sex, region and immigrant status to ensure the factors did not impact results.
Analysis showed children who skipped breakfast were 3.29 times as likely to develop behavioural problems as those who did not.
Those who ate breakfast outside the home were 2.06 times more likely to suffer the problems.
Researchers suggested breakfasts eaten at cafes and restaurants tended to be less healthy, which could lead to the problems.
Meanwhile, what children ate also had an impact.
Missing out on breakfasts including bread, toast, cereals raised the chances of behavioural problems by 31 per cent.
For comparison, eating breakfast without eggs, chees or ham reduced the risk of developing the issues by 44 per cent.
Dr Lopez-Gil said: ‘The fact that eating breakfast away from home is associated with greater psychosocial health problems is a novel aspect of our study.
‘Our findings reinforce the need to promote not only breakfast as part of a healthy lifestyle routine, but also that it should be eaten at home.
‘Also, to prevent psychosocial health problems, a breakfast that includes dairy and/or cereals, and minimises certain animal foods high in saturated fat or cholesterol, could help to decrease psychosocial health problems in young people.’
Skipping breakfast has become more popular among adults seeking to lose weight as part of intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting diets involve narrowing eating times to six to eight hours per day, also known as the 16:8 diet.
Followers of the eating plan fast for 16 hours a day, and eat whatever they want in the remaining eight hours — typically between 10am and 6pm.
It is thought to help shed the pounds by encouraging the body to use existing fat stores as an energy source when food is not available.
In addition to weight loss, 16:8 intermittent fasting is believed to improve blood sugar control, boost brain function and help us live longer.
But recent research has suggested the rapid weight loss is not actually caused by fasting itself, but the overall reduction in calories it can result in.
And children need more calories to help their growth and help ward off some of the behavioural problems found in the most recent study.
Researchers said skipping meals could see children starved of vital nutrients or also cause them to overcompensate by eating less healthy meals later in the day.
Writing in the study, they said: ‘These two factor could lead to an overall unhealthy/low-quality diet, which has been associated with depression or poorer psychological health in the young population.’