It is a well documented fact that an association exists between breakfast and weight management, however a new study has found that previous researchers designed to find links between these two things often do not prove that one causes the other.
The research led by David Allison, Ph.D., associate dean for science in the University of Alabama School of Public Health, shows that the question of whether eating vs. skipping breakfast affects weight has not been answered by studies.
Andrew Brown, Ph.D., first author of the study, spearheaded the examination of 92 studies about the proposed effect of breakfast on obesity (PEBO). The PEBO-related research literature, the authors found, seemed to be influenced by factors that led to exaggerated beliefs and statements about the purported effects of breakfast consumption on obesity. These include research that lacks probative value and biased research reporting.
Allison and his team found that scientists collectively do not know as much about the relationship between skipping breakfast and obesity as previously thought, based on the current state of PEBO-related research.
Their meta-analysis indicated that there is certainty that breakfast-skipping and obesity are associated, but it cannot confirm whether there is a causal effect of skipping breakfast on obesity.
Brown said that although we know that breakfast-skippers are more likely to be overweight or obese, we do not know if making breakfast-skippers eat breakfast would decrease their weight, nor do we know if making breakfast-eaters stop eating breakfast would cause them to gain weight.
Meanwhile, Allison said that uncertainty should not be confused with evidence of no benefit or harm, though.
“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,” the researcher added.
The authors suggest that if causal claims are desired, different research on the topic is needed. They call for stronger study designs that include randomizing people to eat or skip breakfast to help determine causal effects of breakfast on obesity. UAB is leading such a trial in roughly 300 adults at five sites around the world; results from this study are expected in spring 2014.
The study is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.