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No evidence eating breakfast promotes weight-loss

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  • June 10, 2014

breakfast fNutritionists regularly suggest you eat breakfast each morning for its health benefits, including weight-loss and maintenance. But new research led by UAB shows that — whether you regularly consume it or skip it altogether — weight-loss is not influenced.

Previous research, including an examination of 92 studies about the proposed effect of breakfast on obesity also performed at UAB, revealed an association between breakfast and weight-management, but did not consider the effects of skipping it.

The new study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, did.

It was important to test the common recommendation to eat breakfast to ensure this public health message was not misleading about behaviors that will or will not promote weight-loss, said Emily Dhurandhar, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Health Behavior and lead author.

“Previous studies have demonstrated correlation, but not necessarily causation,” Dhurandhar said. “In contrast, we used a large, randomized controlled trial to examine whether or not breakfast recommendations have a causative effect on weight-loss.”

This multisite, 16-week trial enrolled 309 otherwise healthy overweight and obese adults, ages 20-65. Experimental groups were told to eat or skip breakfast. The control group, which included people who did and did not eat breakfast, was provided nutrition information that did not mention breakfast.

“Now that we know the general recommendation to eat breakfast every day has no differential impact on weight-loss, we can move forward with studying other techniques for improved effectiveness.”

Dhurandhar says that there was no identifiable effect of treatment assignment on weight-loss.

“Now that we know the general recommendation to eat breakfast every day has no differential impact on weight-loss, we can move forward with studying other techniques for improved effectiveness,” Dhurandhar said. “We should try to understand why eating or skipping breakfast did not influence weight-loss, despite evidence that breakfast may influence appetite and metabolism.”

Dhurandhar notes several study limitations:

  • The study only measured weight as an outcome; it draws no conclusions about the role of breakfast on appetite or more detailed measures of body fat or metabolism.
  • Length of time may affect study results. The UAB study was 16 weeks, which is longer than many previous studies, but it is not clear a longer study would have produced differing results.
  • The food consumed for breakfast was not controlled. Participants were given a recommendation of what constitutes a healthy breakfast, but they were free to eat the foods they wanted.

Dhurandhar says the objective was to test the general effect of eating breakfast, and they cannot conclude anything about a particular kind or quantity of breakfast food although certain foods may be helpful. She said future studies could examine the effect of specific breakfast recommendations on weight-loss.

“The field of obesity and weight loss is full of commonly held beliefs that have not been subjected to rigorous testing; we have now found that one such belief does not seem to hold up when tested,” said David Allison, Ph.D., director of the UAB Nutrition Obesity Research Center and senior investigator on the project. “This should be a wake-up call for all of us to always ask for evidence about the recommendations we hear so widely offered.”

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