Nine and 10-year-olds who eat breakfast daily, particularly a high-fibre cereal, have lower fasting blood sugar and insulin levels and fewer other risk factors for type 2 diabetes, according to a new study from England.
Skipping breakfast and diabetes
"The evidence from studies in adults suggests that there is a link between skipping breakfast and high diabetes risk – but this is the first study to confirm this pattern in children," said Angela S. Donin of the Population Health Research Institute at St George's University of London.
It's still not clear exactly how breakfast works to change diabetes risk, however, she told Reuters Health.
Read: Power breakfast
Donin and her team analysed surveys of breakfast frequency along with measured height, weight, body composition and a fasting blood sample for 4,116 children at primary schools in the UK.
More than 3,000 kids said they ate breakfast every day, 450 said they had it most days, 372 some days and 238 said they didn't usually eat breakfast.
Lower insulin resistance
The kids who ate breakfast every day had lower fat mass, total skinfolds and insulin resistance than those who didn't usually eat breakfast, researchers found.
Daily breakfast eaters had average fasting insulin levels almost 27 percent lower than kids with the fewest breakfasts, according to the results published in PLOS Medicine.
The hormone insulin helps regulate metabolism and move blood sugar into muscle, fat and liver cells.
Higher fasting insulin in the blood means the pancreas is producing more of the hormone because the body isn't using it effectively, a condition known as insulin resistance, according to the National Institutes of Health.
High fasting insulin, or insulin resistance, can be a precursor to developing type 2 diabetes.
Read: Kids' breakfast cereals remain loaded with sugar
Leptin, a fat-regulating hormone produced by fat cells, and C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation, were also higher in the "not usually" breakfast group.
The study also looked at cardiovascular risk factors and found that kids who did eat breakfast regularly had more high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the so-called good cholesterol.
"There are many potential mechanisms which could be causing this, such as the role the breakfast meal has on breaking the overnight fast, or the importance of the distribution of energy intakes through-out the day," Donin said.
The new results do extend those found for adults to children, said Anne de la Hunty, an independent nutrition consultant with Ashwell Associates in Ashwell, UK.
Breakfast skippers more likely overweight
Breakfast skippers are more likely to be overweight than those who eat breakfast, and obesity is well known to increase diabetes risk, she noted.
However, because the study is based on observations, at a single point in time, it is "unable to demonstrate causality or even direction of causality. Another explanation for the findings of this study could be that overweight children are both more likely to skip breakfast and also have more risk factors for type 2 diabetes." de la Hunty said.
"You can't know from this type of study which comes first – breakfast skipping or being overweight," said de la Hunty, who was not involved in the new research.
A nutritionist also asked 2,000 of the kids what they had to eat during the previous day, including breakfast.
Read: Breakfast cereal tied to lower BMI for kids
Ten percent of kids had eaten what the researchers deemed a high-fibre cereal, with at least three grams of fibre per 40 grams of cereal. Those kids had lower fasting insulin and insulin resistance than kids who ate lower-fibre cereals, toast, biscuits or other types of breakfast.
"Our data showed that children who ate a breakfast which had a high fibre content had lower insulin resistance than children who ate a breakfast with low fibre content, on this basis I would recommend a high fibre breakfast, which will also help to meet daily recommended requirements for fibre," Donin said in an email.
Dietary fibre may help people have better blood sugar control by affecting how sugar is absorbed, but there will need to be more trials to investigate whether fibre actually causes a lower risk for type 2 diabetes, or if the two are related in some other way, she said.
There isn't enough evidence yet for parents to change what they give their children for breakfast, de la Hunty said.
"Personally, I think that any breakfast is better than no breakfast but if you can persuade your children to eat a high fibre breakfast cereal with milk and some fruit, that is an excellent start to the day. But if you can't, don't worry about it." she said.
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Image: Little girl enjoying breakfast-time from Shutterstock.
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