A new study says skipping breakfast could increase your risk of dying early, but health experts aren’t convinced

Could eating a morning meal decrease your chances of dying from heart disease?

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Could eating a morning meal decrease your chances of dying from heart disease?
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Unsplash/Peter Hershey

  • A new study has found that people who never eat breakfast could be more at risk of dying early from cardiovascular disease.
  • The researchers claim that not eating breakfast is linked to increased likelihood of stroke and heart disease.
  • However, there are limitations to the study, including the fact that what people ate for breakfast was not taken into account.
  • Health experts told INSIDER that the research should be taken with a pinch of salt, stressing that overall lifestyle and diet are more important than whether you eat breakfast or not.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Skipping breakfast could increase your risk of dying early from cardiovascular disease, a new study has claimed.

According to research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, people who don’t eat a morning meal have an 87% higher risk of cardiovascular-related death than those who eat breakfast every day.

However, nutritionists and health experts say the study’s findings should be taken with a pinch of salt, stressing that it’s a person’s overall diet which is most important for their health.

Findings of the study

The researchers used self-reported data from 6,550 Americans aged 40 to 75 (48% male, 52% female), collected between 1988 and 1994.

The participants were asked to report how often they ate breakfast as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. 5.1% said they never consumed breakfast, 10.9% rarely consumed breakfast, 25% consumed breakfast some days, and 59% consumed breakfast every day.

The health of the participants was then analyzed through to 2011 using separate data. Within this time frame, 2,318 participants died, and 619 of these deaths were due to cardiovascular disease.

After making adjustments for age, sex, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, dietary and lifestyle factors, body mass index, and cardiovascular risk factors, the researchers concluded that people who never ate breakfast were more likely to die from heart disease- or stroke-related causes than those who did.

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“Breakfast is traditionally believed as the most or at least one of the most important meals of the day, but there are not much data available to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to this belief,” said lead study author Dr. Wei Bao, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa.

“Our paper is among the ones that provide evidence to support long-term benefits. There are a few cardiovascular risk factors – for example diabetes, hypertension, and lipid disorders.

“Our findings are in line with and supported by previous studies that consistently showed that skipping breakfast is related to those strong risk factors for cardiovascular death.”

Conflicting evidence around the importance of breakfast

The new research claims skipping breakfast is associated with increased risk of obesity, elevated cholesterol or fats in the blood, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease, but other evidence around the importance of eating breakfast is conflicting.

While one 2013 study found that eating a morning meal was linked to a lower risk of coronary heart disease in men, skipping breakfast and thus reducing your “eating window” for the day has been found to reduce insulin levels in the blood, help cells repair themselves, boost your metabolic rate, and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.

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It’s worth noting that there are various limitations to the study: for example, exactly what people were eating for breakfast and whether their breakfast habits changed in the follow-up period were both unknown.

Therefore, the findings should be taken in context.

“When it comes to health, it is a person’s overall lifestyle and diet that should be taken into consideration, as opposed to just whether someone eats breakfast or not,” Rhiannon Lambert BSc MSc RNutr, a registered nutritionist and spokesperson for The Association for Nutrition, told INSIDER.

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“No meal should be categorised as more important than another, and daily food intake should be considered as a whole,” the “Re-Nourish” author continued.

“The key to a healthy lifestyle is everything in moderation, lots of body movement, good quality sleep, and reduced stress. It is about looking at these habits over the course of an extended period of time, as opposed to just one day.”

There are proven benefits of intermittent fasting

With increasing evidence that intermittent fasting (also known as time-restricted eating) has some health benefits, the importance of breakfast has been much debated in recent years.

One major proponent of delaying your first meal of the day and thus prolonging your overnight fast is author of “The 2-Meal Day” and personal trainer Max Lowery.

Like Lambert, Lowery believes whether you eat breakfast or not should be considered as part of the bigger picture.

Read more: Here’s what you need to know about the different types of ‘intermittent fasting’ and their benefits

“The general health advice is to eat breakfast,” Lowery told INSIDER. “People who are more health-conscious overall tend to eat breakfast because they are following health guidelines, whereas people who skip breakfast are usually unhealthier overall because they are ignoring guidelines.

“Almost certainly these people who were skipping breakfast had many unhealthy lifestyle habits that would contribute to cardiovascular death.”

Indeed, Krista Varady, associate professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois, Chicago, believes this is the main problem with the study: “The subjects who regularly skipped breakfast also had the most unhealthy lifestyle habits,” she told CNN.

Varady points out that the breakfast-skippers were also more likely to be former smokers, heavy drinkers, physically inactive, have poor diet quality, and low family income, all of which increase cardiovascular disease risk factor.

Although the study authors attempted to take these factors into account, Varady believes realistically that’s “hard” to do.

Lowery added: “The increased prevalence of cardiovascular death has nothing to do with not eating first thing in the morning and everything to do with a variety of variables like poor lifestyle choices.”