What are the health risks of children skipping breakfast?

Boy alone eating breakfast. (Getty Images)
Only one in five children eat breakfast every day, new research has revealed. (Getty Images)

When we were growing up we were constantly told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But it seems parents today aren't heeding that advice as new research has found only one in five children eat breakfast before they leave for school.

Of course the current cost of living crisis likely has a major role to play in the skipping of the morning meal, with the poll revealing that 19% of those whose kids start the day on empty stomach say they don’t have "any suitable" food in the home.

A further 17% struggle to afford breakfast food for their family on a daily basis, with two thirds (64%) of those who are finding it hard to keep their families fed in the morning citing rising food costs as the key reason.

But this breakfast deficit is leading to concern from parents with almost half (47%) worrying their children will be hungry before their first break, and almost a third (31%) fretting about them being able to concentrate.

The research, of 900 parents of primary school children, was commissioned by General Mills, which in partnership with the Greggs Foundation, funds 1.2 million breakfasts every year for children through its Breakfast Club programme.

Commenting on the findings a spokesperson for General Mills says: "No child should go without, especially at breakfast.

“It’s really important for kids to have the energy they need to sustain them through school, when they are exercising their minds as much as their bodies at playtime.

With that in mind, we spoke to the experts to find out more about the health impacts of children skipping breakfast and get some suggestions of spend-conscious morning meals to help set kids up for the day.

Child eating breakfast. (Getty Images)
There are some health risks associated with children skipping breakfast. (Getty Images)

On their gut

Mornings can be a crazy whirlwind — hectic routines, picky eaters, and maybe not having easy, nutritious options stocked at home.

But according to Dr Daniel Glazer, clinical psychologist and co-founder UK Therapy Rooms regularly skipping that morning meal is like starting the day with one foot out the door in so many ways.

"From the most basic level, breakfast is what kickstarts digestion and gets those gut processes going smoothly for the day ahead," he says. "Without it, you get kids whose bodies almost go into fight-or-flight mode - constipation, bloating, and potential nutrient deficiencies if it becomes a pattern. It's like their systems really struggle to 'wake up'."

On their development

Dr Glazer says the downstream effects of children not eating breakfast become even more concerning when you look at childhood development overall.

"Because kids' bodies and brains are growing so rapidly, they require more nutritional building blocks than adults," he explains. "If they consistently miss out on those proteins, vitamins, minerals, and other key nutrients from breakfast, it can potentially impede their physical growth and brain development in the long term."

On their concentration

According to Dr Glazer skipping breakfast zaps brain power and cognitive function. "Their little minds need that steady glucose supply and vitamin/mineral boost to focus optimally," he explains. "Miss out on that fuel, and you may well get zoned-out, foggy youngsters - fatigued, irritable, and unable to retain information or concentrate. It absolutely derails their academic performance for the day."

That something that has also been backed up by science. A recent study, by Warburtons as part of its partnership with the charity Magic Breakfast, of 500 educators found 72% noticed a significant difference between students who eat the first meal of the day and those who don’t.

Characteristics of those who don’t have breakfast on a regular basis include giving up on tasks quickly, showing signs of tiredness, and being easily distracted.

Similarly, they aren’t as engaged as those who have eaten and lack curiosity.

It's little wonder therefore that 97% of the teachers polled believe breakfast, such as a bowl of cereal or toast, is very important to the success of kids.

Further research, from the University of Leeds, found that students who rarely ate breakfast on school days achieved lower GCSE grades than those who ate breakfast frequently.

Dad and daughter eating breakfast together. (Getty Images)
Experts recommend making breakfast a morning ritual. (Getty Images)

Of course finances may have an important role to play in many kids skipping breakfast, but if busyness is a problem, Dr Glazer says part of the solution could be trying to make it an iron-clad ritual no matter how rushed mornings feel.

"It doesn't have to be fancy," he says. "Balanced basics like whole grain cereal with milk, yogurt with fruit, nut butter on whole wheat toast are all quick, affordable options which help supply that crucial morning nourishment."

Getting kids involved in choosing and prepping their morning meal is another positive step.

"This helps instil those healthy habits and an appreciation for nourishing their bodies/brains nice and early," he advises. "Those become lifelong tools in their self-care toolbox. Making sure kids start their days properly fuelled is one of the most impactful investments we can make for their overall well-being, both in the present and long term."

Lisa Marley, nutrition coach and chef has put together some suggestions for some quick and affordable breakfast options.

- Overnight oats topped with fresh fruits and nuts

- Whole grain toast with avocado or nut butter

- Smoothies made with spinach, banana, and almond milk

Additional reporting SWNS.