12 January - 20 June 2016

Can missing breakfast cause an increase in coronary heart disease?

31 July 13

According to the findings of a 16 year study conducted by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School skipping breakfast could increase the risk of a heart attack by over 25%.  The study by Cahill et al. published in the journal Circulation and cited by the popular press involved over 26,000 male American health professionals aged between 45 and 82 years old.   Using their responses to a set question about the time of day they ate breakfast, the participants were categorised into three groups.  The men were then followed up for 16 years to see whether they developed coronary heart disease.  Cahill et al. assessed whether eating breakfast, late-night eating, other individual meals and snacks, and eating frequency were related to the risk of coronary heart disease. At baseline 13% of men reported skipping breakfast and 1.2% reported late night eating.   During follow-up, 1,527 men (5.7%) developed coronary heart disease and those who did not eat breakfast had a 27% higher risk of coronary heart disease than men who ate breakfast.  Men who ate late at night (after they had gone to bed) had a 55% higher risk of coronary heart disease than men who didn’t.  The suggestion is that missing a meal places additional stress on the body.  Whilst the figures appear convincing, it is necessary to point out that such patterns may also have been caused by other health problems e.g. obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes; which are in fact all known factors in heart disease.  The results were no longer significant when these factors were adjusted for.  NHS choices state that this suggests that the associations between skipping breakfast or eating late at night and coronary heart disease may in fact be because of these other health problems. Therefore a direct cause and effect relationship between breakfast and health cannot be proven by this study and further research is necessary.  Cahill et al speculate that regularly missing breakfast could disrupt  the normal function of the metabolism as well as the body clock.

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