Skipping Breakfast a Recipe for Heart Disease: Study
Men who miss morning meal much more likely to suffer heart attack, research shows
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Rimm said there are several possible explanations why skipping breakfast can have such a drastic effect on heart health.
The Harvard study found that men who skip breakfast do not pick up another meal later in the day, which Rimm said indicates that they tend to "feast" on higher-calorie meals when they do eat. Previous studies have found that feasting can result in high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure, compared with nibbling smaller meals.
"It's the extra strain on the body of eating more calories during the few times in a day they do eat," he said.
The type of food that a person consumes during breakfast also might be a factor. "Breakfast is typically a time when people tend to eat a healthy meal," Rimm said. "By skipping a meal that usually features fiber or fruit or yogurt, you're missing out on an occasion where people can get healthy nutrients."
Younger men tend to skip breakfast more frequently than older men, the investigators found, which leads to another possible explanation. "It may be in line with the fact that these are men who are rushing out to stressful jobs and not eating along the way," Rimm said, noting that stress is bad for heart health and is associated with negative lifestyle choices such as drinking or smoking.
The study did not include women, but Steinbaum believes the same pattern likely occurs in women who skip breakfast. "There haven't been any studies independently on women, but I would suspect we would find the same outcomes," she said.
Rimm said the study reinforces the age-old emphasis on breakfast as a key to good health.
"There is so much we know about reducing risk of heart disease, and some things like exercise or quitting smoking take quite a bit of effort," Rimm said. "But it is easy without a big huge financial or time commitment to have breakfast, even if it is a bowl of oatmeal or a bit of cereal before you start the day."