Skipping Breakfast Increases Heart Attack Risk
July 23, 2013

Can Skipping Breakfast Increase Your Risk Of Heart Attack?

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

From doctors to moms to cereal commercials, the message to start the day with a balanced breakfast seems to be everywhere, and a new study from Harvard University has found a big reason to follow this advice - skipping breakfast can lead to increased risk for heart attack.

According to the Harvard researchers' report in the journal Circulation, men who said they regularly skipped breakfast had a 27 percent higher risk of heart attack or death from coronary disease. The report also said these men tended to be younger, smokers, single, employed full-time, less active and heavier drinkers.

"Skipping breakfast may lead to one or more risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which may in turn lead to a heart attack over time," said co-author Leah E. Cahill, a research fellow in Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

The study included data from 1992 to 2008 on almost 27,000 male health professionals between the ages of 45 and 82.

"Our study group has spent decades studying the health effects of diet quality and composition, and now this new data also suggests overall dietary habits can be important to lower risk of coronary heart disease," said report co-author Eric Rimm, an associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Study volunteers were asked to complete a comprehensive questionnaire that gathered information on TV watching, physical activity, sleep, diet quality, and alcohol habits along with medical history, body mass index (BMI) and social factors.

Participants who said they eat breakfast tended to average one more meal per day than those who skipped, meaning those who didn't eat breakfast were not making up for it later in the day.

The researchers also found late night snackers, men who said they ate after going to bed, had a 55 percent greater risk of coronary heart disease than those who didn't. Interestingly, 76 percent of late-night eaters also ate breakfast. The Harvard team said late night snacking was not a significant public health concern because only a few men reported the habit.

The observational study wasn't able to determine causation, only a correlation between skipping breakfast and increased risk.

"We don't know whether it's the timing or content of breakfast that's important. It's probably both," Andrew Odegaard, an epidemiologist at University of Minnesota researcher, told USA Today. "Generally, people who eat breakfast tend to eat a healthier diet."

The study group included mostly white men of European descent. However, the researchers said their findings should also apply to women and other ethnic groups. They added future studies should focus more on these groups.

"Don't skip breakfast," Cahill said. "Eating breakfast is associated with a decreased risk of heart attacks. Incorporating many types of healthy foods into your breakfast is an easy way to ensure your meal provides adequate energy and a healthy balance of nutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. For example, adding nuts and chopped fruit to a bowl of whole grain cereal or steel-cut oatmeal in the morning is a great way to start the day."