Science News

Skip breakfast, get diabetes...

Fri, 5th Sep 2014

Amelia Perry

Skipping breakfast is associated with a higher risk of developing diabetes, a new study in PLoS Medicine has shown.

Led by Angela Donin from BreakfastSt. George's University of London, the team of researchers examined the effects of children missing breakfast.

Diabetes is a condition where an individual produces insufficient levels of the hormone insulin to control blood sugar levels, which can become dangerously high.

There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 tends to start early in life and occurs when the pancreas does not produce any insulin. Sufferers must take daily injections of the hormome to control the condition.

In contrast, type 2 diabetes occurs when the body produces an inadequate amount of the hormone, something known as ‘insulin resistance‘. Often linked to poor eating habits and a ‘couch-potato’ lifestyle, type 2 diabetes is strongly linked to obesity and rates of the disease are rising.

In the new study involving over 4000 primary school children, the team issued questionnaires to assess how many children regularly did not consume breakfast before attending school, which was discovered to be a staggering 26%. Blood samples were also collected and tested for markers of the disease, including blood sugar levels.

The results showed that children who rarely ate breakfast (1-2 times a week) or not at all, had higher levels of insulin resistance and glucose overall, compared to those who did eat breakfast.

Furthermore, those who ate high-fibre cereals, rather than sugar-rich brands, which tend to be more popular with children, were found to be less at risk.

The take-home message of their findings, according to Dr Donin, is that “eating breakfast every day, particularly one which is high in fibre, could help reduce emerging risk factors [for diabetes] in childhood, and protect against a long-term risk of developing diabetes.”

According to the ‘State of the Nation’s Waistline’ January 2014 report, more than one in five new-school starters are overweight and previously, The 2007 Foresight Report concluded that by 2050, up to half of the UK’s population could be obese, with a predicted healthcare cost of £50 billion per year.

From these numbers, it is evidently important that these problems are addressed. But whose responsibility is it to ensure children get a healthy start to their day? Parents, schools or even the government?

“I think it’s a collective responsibility, we all have a role. As researchers we need to make sure that our findings are being heard,” says Dr Donin.

Why missing breakfast should do this, isn't clear. Further studies are needed to pin down the exact reason. Suggestions include that it is related to the number of meals we eat or the distribution of energy we take in over the period of the day.

So, for now, the best advice would appear to be “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dine like a pauper.”

Listen to the interview with Angela Donin: 

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I would guess that children not having breakfast before school come from less affluent families and as such consume less than healthy diets in general - at least from what I have observed in supermarkets in the carts of those who appear to be struggling financially. Seems to be a big leap from the data involved. Scott Miller, Sat, 27th Sep 2014

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