Is There a Link Between Kids Breakfast Choices and Their Weight?
Poor dietary choices and low physical activity levels (including lots of sitting screen time) are linked to overweight and obesity amongst children and adolescents. Breakfast is one of the key sources of daily dietary fibre in children and research has shown that children’s diets high in fibre are often associated with lower body weights and reduced risk for type 2 diabetes, as well as increased satiation (less hunger between meals!). A diet high in fibre is often low in sugar, fat, high in fruit and vegetables and high in micronutrients.
Studies indicate that children who eat cereals for breakfast have higher daily intakes of fibre and other important micronutrients, as ready to eat breakfast cereals are often fortified with vitamins and minerals. It’s just important to keep these cereals to non sweetened choices like oats and wholgrains (weetbix is a great choice). Interestingly, this research has also shown that children who skip breakfast make poorer food choices throughout the day, including higher consumption of soft drinks, snacks and foods high in saturated fat and lower vegetables intake. This is possibly due to the association between breakfast skipping and children more likely to eat out of home or have unstable meal hours.
Whole grain or high fibre breakfasts (as opposed to sugar rich cereals) are also associated with a reduced risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Children who consume presweetened ready to eat cereals had the highest volume of daily added sugars and lower dietary fibre intake, compared to non-presweetened breakfast cereals, or other breakfast eaters. A 2007 analysis of 14 studies and 33,205 children and adolescents concluded that high consumers of breakfast cereal had a lower body mass index (BMI), by 1.13, compared to non or low breakfast cereal consumers. Most of these studies did not control for dieting or physical activity, which could be significant confounding factors with an even larger effect, and should be included in future studies.
As indicated in table 1 below, the 2011-12 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey indicates there is a large decline in breakfast consumption from 4-8 year olds to aged 9-13 year olds in Australia. The 2014 ABS census involving over 16,000 Australian school children indicated that 15.2% of participants did not eat breakfast before school, increasing from 10.8% in 2008.
Table 1: Consumption of Breakfast Cereal among Australians. ABS, Australian Health Survey, Nutrition First Results – Food and Nutrients, 2011-12. Canberra, ABS 2014.
What this research shows is that the stats in our own backyard are really concerning. As children and adolescents make more of their food choices (and purchases), and have more freedom to get to school and back independently often passing shops with pocket money on hand, they start dropping the healthy food habits we instil in them as babies, toddlers and young children. As parents we can set our children up with healthy eating habits for life by providing them with a non sweetened healthy breakfast, preferably a wholegrain cereal, along with some fruit and water (not juice). By doing this we can send them off on their day full of energy and ready to concentrate without the need to fill up on junk food on the way to school or at morning tea to stave off their hunger.
- ABS 2014, Customised report. http://www.abs.gov.au/censusatschool
- Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results – Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12. Canberra: ABS; 2014.
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