Skip to main content
KBS_Icon_questionmark link-ico

Children who don't eat breakfast risk not getting recommended nutrients

A study by researchers at King’s College and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine has found that children who skip breakfast regularly may not be consuming the daily recommended amounts of key nutrients required for growth.

Although eating breakfast is widely considered to be an important component of a healthy lifestyle, few UK studies have examined the differences in nutrient intakes between breakfast consumers and breakfast skippers among children and adolescents.

The study investigated associations between breakfast-skipping in children and young people aged 4-18 and their overall nutrient intake of nutrients.

Using estimated dietary data from four-day food diaries of 802 children aged 4–10 years and 884 children aged 11–18 years (1686 in total) collected for the National Diet and Nutrition Survey Rolling programme between 2008 and 2012, and with breakfast defined as the consumption of over 100 calories between 6 and 9am, the researchers found that children who ate breakfast every day did overall have superior nutritional profiles compared to those who didn’t.

Although a causal link couldn’t be established, children who ate breakfast were found to have higher daily intakes of key nutrients such as folate (important for the development of genetic material), and of calcium, iron and iodine (key in the development of thyroid function) than children who didn’t regularly eat breakfast.

Key findings include:

  • 31.5 per cent of those who skipped breakfast did not meet even the lower recommended nutrient intake (LRNI) of iron compared to only 4.4 per cent of breakfast consuming children
  • 19 per cent did not meet LRNI for calcium, compared to 2.9 per cent of breakfast consuming children
  • 21.5 per cent did not meet lower levels for iodine, compared to 3.3 per cent of breakfast consuming children
  • No children who consumed breakfast daily had a folate intake below their LRNI compared to 7.3 per cent of those who skipped breakfast

The study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, also compared breakfast habits and nutrient profiles within individual participants. This analysis showed that in younger children (4-10 years old), on days when breakfast was consumed children had higher intakes of folate, calcium, vitamin C and iodine compared to their breakfast-skipping days. Out of these same nutrients, for older children (11-18 years old) only calcium intakes were higher on days when breakfast was eaten

Across the board - for both the between and within-person analyses and in both age groups - a lack of breakfast was associated with lower calcium intakes. This is a particularly important finding given that calcium is a vital nutrient for bone growth, and needs in childhood are high due to rapid growth and bone mass accumulation.

Dr Gerda Pot, senior author of the study and Lecturer in Nutritional Sciences at King’s said:

“This study provides evidence that breakfast is key for parents to ensure that their children are getting the nutrition they need.

“Further studies that investigate specific foods and dietary quality would help to identify if the differences are due to the different types of breakfast being eaten by different age groups, as well as provide more insight into the impact of breakfast on dietary quality overall.”

The study also showed that only 6.5 per cent of 4 – 10 year olds missed breakfast every day, compared with nearly 27 per cent of 11- 18 year olds. Data also suggested that girls were more likely to miss breakfast than boys and household income was found to be higher in the families of children eating breakfast every day.