People who eat breakfast are significantly less likely to be obese and diabetic than those who usually do not, researchers reported this week at the American Heart Association's annual conference.
In their study, researchers found that obesity and insulin resistance syndrome rates were 35 per cent to 50 per cent lower among people who ate breakfast every day compared to those who frequently skipped it.
"Our results suggest that breakfast may really be the most important meal of the day," said Dr Mark A. Pereira, a research associate at Children's Hospital in Boston and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. "It appears that breakfast may play an important role in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease." Pereira said that eating breakfast might have beneficial effects on appetite, insulin resistance and energy metabolism. "Just the habit of filling your belly in the morning might help people control their hunger throughout the day so they might be less likely to overeat in the morning or at lunch," he said.
"Or, there might be a hormonal basis for some of the effects because the hormone insulin controls blood sugar and blood sugar level is related to how hungry or energetic a person feels."
Insulin resistance syndrome is a metabolic disorder characterised by the combination of several factors such as obesity, high abdominal body fat, high blood pressure, and high fasting levels of blood sugar or the hormone insulin, which helps the body store glucose properly.
The syndrome also often includes problems in blood fat metabolism such as high levels of triglycerides and low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL - the 'good' cholesterol). Although people with insulin resistance syndrome may not yet have diabetes, their bodies do not use glucose efficiently and those with the condition are at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes as well as heart disease.
The risk reduction for obesity and insulin resistance was consistent for white men and women and for black men but not for black women, a difference the researchers are continuing to study, Pereira said.
Overall, about 47 per cent of the whites and 22 per cent of the blacks reported daily breakfast consumption. "Dietary patterns are known to differ widely, probably due to cultural differences, by race and ethnicity and even between men and women," he said.
The subjects included 1,198 black and 1,633 white participants of the CARDIA study, which studied young adults in the US communities of Minneapolis, Oakland in California, Chicago and Birmingham. They assessed breakfast habits and risk factors for heart disease over an eight-year period (1992-2000) for participants aged 25-37 in 1992. The study results accounted for risk factors such as smoking, low physical activity, alcohol use and demographic factors.
This large, prospective study of young adults from two different racial groups makes a unique contribution to the literature, Pereira said, yet it is limited because researchers cannot determine cause and effect from a self-reporting study.
"We need to do more research," said the scientist. "We have started looking at what people are eating when they eat breakfast, which led to our finding that eating wholegrain cereal each day was associated with a 15 per cent reduction in risk for the insulin resistance syndrome."
This corresponds with a recent study showing that eating wholegrain cereal daily can cut the risk for heart attack and stroke.