It seems like conventional wisdom: Eating breakfast helps prevent weight gain because it reduces the need to snack later in the day.
But a new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition challenges the assumption.
The research examined studies on the subject and found that randomized, controlled trials showed skipping the first meal of the day has little or no effect on weight gain, and the presumption comes from misinterpreted studies.
“We specifically found that research articles tended to overstate the strength of study designs and ignored evidence that did not support the proposed effect of breakfast on obesity,” said Andrew Brown, the first author of the report. “These distortions leave readers believing that the relationship between breakfast and obesity is more strongly established by science than the data actually support.”
A 1992 study described as “fairly small and limited” by the New York Times had mixed results, but was misconstrued in many articles that followed, as was another study conducted in 2002.
David B. Allison, director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and one of the authors of the new study, said bias plays a role.
"We all eat, and we all have beliefs about food, family, morals and body weight," said Allison, who led the research team. "It's a very emotional issue for many people, and some of that leads to... passion that sometimes clouds judgment."
But that doesn't mean there isn't a link between obesity and breakfast habits, Allison said.
“It just means that right now we don’t know how changing breakfast-eating habits will influence obesity — eating versus skipping breakfast could help control weight, cause more weight gain or have no effect — and the effect may vary from person to person," he said.
Because more evidence is needed, Allison has a trial planned.
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