Skipping breakfast causes skipping hearts

Men who regularly skip breakfast have a 27 per cent higher risk of suffering a heart attack than those who do eat the meal, says a new Harvard study. The 16 year study consisted of nearly 27 000 men aged 45 to 82. The results were published in the journal Circulation and confirm earlier findings that have linked poor eating habits to an elevated risk for heart attacks.
Dr Cory Couillard
Dr Cory Couillard

Men who regularly skip breakfast have a 27 per cent higher risk of suffering a heart attack than those who do eat the meal, says a new Harvard study. The 16 year study consisted of nearly 27 000 men aged 45 to 82. The results were published in the journal Circulation and confirm earlier findings that have linked poor eating habits to an elevated risk for heart attacks.

“Men who skip breakfast are more likely to gain weight, to develop diabetes, to have hypertension and to have high cholesterol,” said Eric Rimm, senior author and associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and associate professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School.

The study did not indicate whether it’s the timing of the meal or the actual contents of the breakfast that helps protect against heart problems. However, people who skipped breakfast were 15 per cent more likely to gain excessive weight and 21 per cent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes – two significant risk factors for heart attacks.

“There is potential that the old adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day may hold true because we also examined other meals, such as lunch and dinner and snacking times, and breakfast was the only meal that we saw an association,” said Leah Cahill, a lead author and a Canadian postdoctoral research fellow in nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health.

Part of healthy living is eating breakfast because it prevents you from doing a lot of other unhealthy things. Researchers found that these men were more likely to engage in other unhealthy lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking and engaging in less physical exercise. People who eat breakfast tend to eat a healthier, well-balanced diet.

The results also highlighted a 55 per cent increased risk of heart disease in those who regularly indulged in late-night snacking. Similarly, they did not discuss the type of foods but merely the lifestyle choices and habits that contributed to the development of disease. The study did not include women who skipped breakfast but similar health outcomes were expected.

Younger men were more likely to skip breakfast than older men. Oversleeping, rushing, excessive stress and not eating along the way appear to have devastating effects to one’s heart. Breakfast is likely to be the healthiest meal of the day and missing it can leave one nutrient deprived throughout the day.

Breakfast skippers are also notorious mid-morning and afternoon snackers. Snack foods are often high in bad fats, excessive amounts of energy and little-to-no actual nutrient value. Skipping breakfast is also associated with larger meals for lunch and especially dinner. Binge eating is a contributing factor in weight gain, type 2 diabetes and other metabolic conditions.

“There is so much we know about reducing risk of heart disease, and some things like exercise or quitting smoking take quite a bit of effort,” says Rimm. “But it is easy without a big huge financial or time commitment to have breakfast, even if it is a bowl of oatmeal or a bit of cereal before you start the day.”

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