Stossel: The Breakfast Myth

People claim breakfast is the "most important meal of the day." But it's not.


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You've probably heard about how it's critical to eat breakfast—that it may have health benefits, and even help you lose weight.

John Stossel looks at the evidence with nutritionist Ruth Kava, and finds that there's no proof of any of those things.

For example, people push breakfast because, as one cereal maker's ad puts it, "a study from none other than Harvard University states that men who regularly skip breakfast have a 27% higher risk of suffering a heart attack."

That's true—but that's largely because the type of people who skip breakfast are also the type of people who are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, and eat unhealthy foods. After adjusting for those things, breakfast itself has no significant effect.

As this study notes, "it remains unknown whether specific eating habits … influence coronary heart disease."

Another myth is that eating breakfast helps people lose weight. The US Health and Agriculture Departments claimed in 2010 that "consuming breakfast has been associated with weight loss." Wonderful! But no, a recent review of studies found that, if anything, the opposite is true. The government backed away from its claim.

One possible reason for the myth is industry funding of scientific studies.

"Of the 15 studies involving children mentioned by the government, five list funding from General Mills or Kellogg," Stossel says to Kava.

She replies: "Yeah, well, they're the ones that are interested in having their products sold."

Industry funding doesn't always mean bias. Dr. Andrew Brown, a health professor at Indiana University, told Stossel about a study that found that eating breakfast does not help lose weight.

"The study was supported by Quaker Oats, and presented as abstracts by the authors, but not published as a paper for years," Brown said. "Quaker Oats actually followed up with the authors to make sure the authors published the study that conflicted with their interests."

Kava says: "Good for Quaker Oats."

Bottom line, says Stossel, don't worry about skipping breakfast.

Instead, Kava says, just eat when it feels right to you, adding, "Eat breakfast if you're hungry."

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The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel; his independent production company, Stossel Productions; and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.