More Breakfast, Less Overeating

Science now supports what your mom said about meal skipping in the morning

Mom always told you to eat a good breakfast. Now there’s research proof from the University of Missouri that that teens who eat a healthy breakfast, particularly one rich in protein, can curb their appetite and prevent overeating later in the day. This could make breakfast a successful dietary strategy to help regulate food intake.

Heather LeidyHeather Leidy

Research conducted by Heather Leidy, assistant professor specializing in appetite control at the MU Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, found that overweight “breakfast skipping” teens who eat a protein-rich breakfast feel fuller longer and are less hungry throughout the day compared to when they skip breakfast or consume a normal breakfast.

Even more interesting, she said, are brain scan findings illustrating that eating a protein-rich breakfast reduces the need to snack due to food motivation and food reward urges.

In an article recently published in Obesity journal, Leidy described how she worked with overweight and obese teen girls who habitually skipped breakfast.

“We decided to target ‘breakfast skipping’ in teens for two reasons,” she said. “First, breakfast skipping has been strongly associated with unhealthy snacking, overeating (especially in the evening), weight gain and obesity. Second, approximately 60 percent of adolescents skip breakfast on a daily basis.”

For three weeks, teen volunteers in the study either skipped breakfast or consumed one of two 500-calorie breakfast meals. One meal contained normal quantities of protein given as cereal and milk. Another, a high protein meal, was made up of Belgium waffles, syrup and yogurt.

At the end of each week, volunteers completed appetite and satiety questionnaires. Just before lunch, the volunteers also completed a brain scan, using an MRI, to identify food-related brain activation responses.

Questionnaire results showed that, compared to breakfast skipping, both breakfast meals led to increased feelings of fullness and reductions in hunger throughout morning. MRI results showed that brain activation in regions controlling appetite, food motivation and reward were reduced in the breakfast-eating teens. The higher protein breakfast led to even greater positive changes in appetite, satiety and reward-driven eating behavior.

Reward-driven eating is associated with the pleasurable sight, smell and flavor of food. Reward-driven eating also occurs during social occasions or during periods of stress.

“These data suggest that incorporating a healthy breakfast containing protein-rich foods may be a simple strategy for people to stay satisfied longer, therefore less prone to snacking,” Leidy said. “When people eat between meals, they reach for convenient snack foods to satisfy their hunger. These foods are almost always high in sugar and fat and add a substantial amount of calories to the diet. The findings suggest that a protein-rich breakfast might be an effective strategy to improve appetite control and prevent overeating in young people.”

The research also showed that eating a healthy breakfast also improved blood glucose control, an important ingredient for maintaining health.

More than 25 million young people are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control. While obesity trends are leveling off in adults, they continue to increase for children, the CDC reports. Unhealthy weight gain can lead to serious health complications which continue into adulthood.

The Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology is a joint effort by MU’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, College of Human Environmental Sciences, and School of Medicine. Funding for the research was provided by National Institutes of Health.