Study Highlights the Importance of Eating Breakfast

An unseen person in a light blue sweater holding a small white bowl of fruit and granola; they are lifting a single raspberry from the bowl.

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Key Takeaways

  • A study conducted by Ohio State University found that 15.2% of adults skip breakfast.
  • People who do not eat breakfast are missing out on key nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin C, that are commonly found in fortified breakfast foods like yogurt, milk, and cereal. 
  • The study also showed that adults who skipped breakfast consumed more carbohydrates, sugars, saturated fat, and ate less fiber later in the day than people who ate breakfast.

Research on how skipping breakfast affects nutrition has mostly been focused on kids, but there are likely nutritional implications for adults who skip breakfast, too.

To address the knowledge gap, researchers from Ohio State University conducted a study to examine how skipping “the most important meal of the day” affects adult health.

The researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which collected health information on a nationally representative population each year between 2005 and 2016.

Stephanie Fanelli, MS, RDN, LD

Eating breakfast is a feasible strategy to improve your health.

— Stephanie Fanelli, MS, RDN, LD

The data, which consisted of interviews, physical exams, and laboratory tests, included 30,889 adults aged 19 and older. Of those adults, 15.2% (or 4,924 adults) reported skipping breakfast.

The researchers first analyzed data from a 24-hour dietary recall that participants completed as a component of the NHANES. Then, they estimated nutrient intakes and MyPlate equivalents using the Food and Nutrients for Dietary Studies and the Food Patterns Equivalents Database. 

Stephanie Fanelli, MS, RDN, LD, a registered dietician and co-author of the study at Ohio State University, tells Verywell that the participants self-designated their eating occasions, sharing the meals that they ate.

“This is how we calculate intakes by breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack,” says Fanelli. “We estimated diet quality using the Healthy Eating Index (HEI) 2015.” 

The Healthy Eating Index (HEI) is a density-based scale that is used to measure adherence to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) 2015-2020 and assess how well foods align with federal recommendations.

Fanelli says that the higher a person's diet quality score, the better their diet adhered to the DGA. When comparing scores to the HEI, participants who skipped breakfast had an overall lower-quality diet when compared to those who ate breakfast.

Missing Out

The study's main message is that people who don't eat breakfast are missing out on key vitamins and other nutrients that are found in traditional American foods included in the meal.

“Dairy products, like milk and yogurt, provide calcium, vitamins, and protein,” Chris Taylor, PhD, LD, FAND, nutrition professor at Ohio State University and researcher, tells Verywell. People who don't eat breakfast are not as likely to get these nutritional benefits as people who do eat the meal.

Lost Nutrition, "Gains" Elsewhere

The study also found that there were macronutrient and micronutrient consequences for adults who skipped breakfast.

Fanelli says that the adults who skipped breakfast "consumed more carbohydrates including added sugars, total fat including saturated, and less fiber" than people who ate the first meal of the day.

Eating more saturated fats than is recommended can raise cholesterol levels in the blood, increasing a person’s risk for heart disease and stroke.

Taylor adds that people who skipped breakfast were also more likely to consume poorer quality snacks, “adding breakfast will address the relative gap in those 'missed' nutrients, but higher intakes at lunch and dinner, as well as the poor snacking, will need to be addressed as a big picture."

The Bottom Line on Breakfast

The data gave researchers a glimpse into the dietary habits among American adults, but there was one limitation to the study. Taylor says that the research "does not show causation or the ability to capture deficiency," but it does provide "a unique opportunity to explore the foods eaten by a large number of people to explore patterns in their intakes."

Much of nutrition data solely focuses on the average intake of calories or fat per 24-hour period without accounting for the foods or meals that make up that daily total. To combat the issue, Fanelli and Taylor coded the intakes of food to classify meals, giving them a deeper understanding of the implications and patterns. 

“At the root of our findings, we see that the simple habit of eating breakfast has the potential for beneficial nutrition impact,” says Fanelli. “Breakfast provides an opportunity to consume nutrient-dense foods, not only helping you meet the recommended intake levels but also helps you improve your overall diet quality. Eating breakfast is a feasible strategy to improve your health.”

What This Means For You

Breakfast is an important meal of the day. Many staple American breakfast foods, like dairy products, fruit, whole grains, and fortified cereals, contain essential vitamins and minerals.

While it's just one meal and therefore does not determine the overall quality of your diet, breakfast is an important component.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fanelli S, Walls C, Taylor C. Skipping breakfast is associated with nutrient gaps and poorer diet quality among adults in the United StatesProceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2021;80(OCE1):E48. doi:10.1017/S0029665121000495

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines.

  3. American Heart Association. Saturated Fat

By Kayla Hui, MPH
Kayla Hui, MPH is the health and wellness ecommerce writer at Verywell Health.She earned her master's degree in public health from the Boston University School of Public Health and BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.