The theory that breakfast is the most important meal of the day may not hold true, research suggests.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that those who eat breakfast consume significantly more calories than those who skip the meal – and end up weighing more.
For decades, health experts have exhorted people not to miss breakfast, with warnings that those trying to keep their weight down by missing a meal will simply end up snacking more later.
But the new research, led by Australian researchers, found those who skipped breakfast consumed 260 fewer calories per day, on average.
Previous studies have suggested that eating breakfast fires up the metabolism and can help dieters stop overeating later in the day.
NHS advice warns: “Some people skip breakfast because they think it will help them lose weight. In fact, research shows that people who regularly eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight.”
However, the new study suggests otherwise – and found those who skip breakfast do not compenstate by eating more later in the day.
The researchers also found no significant difference in metabolic rates between breakfast eaters and skippers – suggesting there is no evidence that eating breakfast may help with weight loss due to “efficient” burning of calories earlier in the day.
Experts from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, examined 13 randomised controlled trials related to breakfast and weight in high income countries, including the UK.
Most of the studies tracked participants for less than a month, with the longest trial lasting 16 weeks.
On average, those who skipped breakfast were a pound lighter than those who did not, the pooled results found.
Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), they said: “This study suggests that the addition of breakfast might not be a good strategy for weight loss, regardless of established breakfast habit.
“Caution is needed when recommending breakfast for weight loss in adults, as it could have the opposite effect.”
Calling for further research to be done, they said: “While breakfast has been advocated as the most important meal of the day in the media since 1917, there is a paucity of evidence to support breakfast consumption as a strategy to achieve weight loss.”
However, they said eating breakfast could have other important effects, such as improving concentration and attentiveness levels in children.
Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology, King’s College London, said the mantra of breakfast being the most important meal of the day had been ingrained in most of us from childhood, and reinforced by campaigns such as “go to work on an egg”.
But he said the findings guggested it was “just another diet myth”.
“Over the past 50 years we have been bombarded with messages extolling the health benefits of various processed cereals and porridge oats. The British fry-up is thought by many to be the country’s main contribution to world cuisine. We are told that breakfast helps our metabolism and that skipping it will make us much hungrier so we’ll over-eat and put on weight.”
“The disadvantages of skipping breakfast have now been debunked by several randomised trials,” he said.
“Reasonable evidence now suggests that skipping breakfast can actually be a useful strategy to reduce weight.”