There's plenty to argue about when it comes to dieting, but one of the most fundamental, basic, undeniable truths is that skipping breakfast is bad for you. It's the most important meal of the day right? Absolutely essential right? Well, actually, wrong.
An investigation by The Washington Post has revealed that the much-cited axiom of healthy living may actually have its roots in some fairly questionable science.
A new study at a New York City hospital conducted by researchers from Columbia University last year split subjects into three groups, with one given oatmeal for a month, another corn flakes and the final group nothing. The only group to lose weight was the cohort that skipped breakfast. In the conclusions, they state that: “In overweight individuals, skipping breakfast daily for four weeks leads to a reduction in body weight.”
The dictat to never, ever skip breakfast is enshrined in Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the US federal government's advice book, which states that “not eating breakfast has been associated with excess body weight” and is pretty much accepted the world over. However, scientists have long been sceptical of the methods used to obtain this finding.
The Washington Post details how much of the research was observational, with a high probability of confounding factors affecting results, even after adjusting for known factors. As the WP puts it, in "observational studies, subjects are merely observed, not assigned randomly to “treatment” and “control” groups as in a traditional experiment. Observational studies in nutrition are generally cheaper and easier to conduct. But they can suffer from weaknesses that can lead scientists astray."
For example, people that skip breakfast may already indulge in particular lifestyle traits that would make them more susceptible to gaining weight. Researchers can adjust for some obvious factors related to this, but not necessarily all of them.
As a consequence, the main danger of 'forcing' people to eat breakfast in the belief that it's good for them is that they will simply eat more than they otherwise would have done without the advice. And that's not going to do much for losing weight is it?
Other studies looked at by the WP seem to suggest no difference between those who skip breakfast and those who eat it; so at the very least you can not bother with breakfast and get those crucial extra minutes in bed instead without it doing you any damage.