16 August 2010

Breakfast holds key to better child health

Schoolchild cycling to school

One simple action could stop the worrying reality that British children are getting fatter, less physically active and less fit – eating breakfast.

According to new research by the University, just published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, children who skipped breakfast were less active than those who ate it.

Scientists at Essex looked at the fitness, physical activity, weight and breakfast habits of more than 4,000 children. The study found that a quarter of boys and a third of girls regularly went to school without eating breakfast. And the children who did not eat breakfast were less active than those who did. The research found that boys who skipped breakfast were twice as likely to be classified as unfit compared with those who always managed to eat something before leaving home.

The findings all suggest that the lower physical activity in breakfast skippers may be having a knock-on effect on children’s body weight. Breakfast skippers were nearly twice as likely to be obese compared with those who ate breakfast every day.

There are a number of reasons why children don’t eat breakfast. For boys it is often due to a lack of time in the mornings. Boys tend to be more active than girls, but if they don’t have breakfast they will not have the energy to be active at school and may under-perform in PE lessons.

Girls often miss breakfast because they think it can help them lose weight, although missing breakfast can lead to cravings for sugary snacks and drinks.
Dr Gavin Sandercock, who led the research, said the decline in the health of the nation’s children was a major worry.

‘There is great national concern about our children’s increasing weight, decreasing activity and decreasing fitness,’ he explained. ’You don’t see many factors that relate so strongly to all three, but it appears that children who regularly eat breakfast are thinner, more active and even fitter than those who don’t.’

Ends

Note to editors
For more information or to interview Dr Gavin Sandercock please call the University of Essex Communications Office on 01206 872400 or e-mail comms@essex.ac.uk.

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