A recent study found that young people who eat healthy breakfasts at home have higher psycho-social health. While earlier research has indicated the importance of a nutritious breakfast, this is the first study to investigate the reported effects of whether or not children eat breakfast, as well as where and what they consume.

These findings offer useful insights and advice for parents and their children. The findings of the research were published in the journal ‘Frontiers in Nutrition’.

"Our results suggest that it is not only important to eat breakfast, but it's also important where young people eat breakfast and what they eat," said first author Jose Francisco Lopez-Gil of the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Cuenca, Spain.

"Skipping breakfast or eating breakfast away from home is associated with increased likelihood of psycho-social behavioural problems in children and adolescents. Similarly, consumption of certain foods/drinks are associated with higher (eg, processed meat) or lower (eg, dairies, cereals) odds of psycho-social behavioural problems."

Breakfast matters

In this study, Lopez-Gil and his collaborators analysed data from the 2017 Spanish National Health Survey. This survey included questionnaires both about breakfast habits as well as children's psychosocial health, which included characteristics such as self-esteem, mood, and anxiety. The questionnaires were completed by the children's parents, or guardians, and the results included a total of 3,772 Spanish residents between the ages of four and 14.

Among the most important results, Lopez-Gil and the team found that eating breakfast away from home was nearly as detrimental as skipping the meal entirely. The authors suggest that this may be because meals away from home are frequently less nutritious than those prepared at home.

The results also showed that coffee, milk, tea, chocolate, cocoa, yogurt, bread, toast, cereals, and pastries were all associated with lower chances of behavioural problems. Surprisingly, eggs, cheese, and ham were linked with higher risks of such issues.

Beyond nutrition

Although this study is limited to Spain, these findings are consistent with research performed elsewhere. The availability of nutritious breakfasts at schools would likely influence the results in some locations.

But other factors, such as the social and family support that young people can receive during breakfast at home may also play a role in the observed benefits. The authors emphasise the need for further studies to understand the cause-and-effect relationships behind their observations, but they still suggest the usefulness of these results.

"The fact that eating breakfast away from home is associated with greater psychosocial health problems is a novel aspect of our study," said Lopez-Gil.

"Our findings reinforce the need to promote not only breakfast as part of a healthy lifestyle routine, but also that it should be eaten at home. Also, to prevent psycho-social health problems, a breakfast that includes dairy and/or cereals, and minimises certain animal foods high in saturated fat or cholesterol, could help to decrease psycho-social health problems in young people."