On a busy morning, the temptation to skip breakfast and save time is strong. A new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that skipping breakfast is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
Irina Uzhova, a researcher at the Spanish National Center for Cardiovascular Research, and colleagues analyzed data from approximately 4,000 healthy volunteers in Spain age 40 to 54 years old. They surveyed these volunteers for eating habits. Based on their answers, they were divided into three groups: a high-energy breakfast group, a low-energy breakfast group, and a group that skipped breakfast. Importantly, participants who drank only coffee for breakfast were grouped as having skipped breakfast.
Researchers then performed diagnostic ultrasounds on the volunteers to assess for cholesterol in their blood vessels, which can be an early risk factor for cardiovascular disease. They found that after controlling for differences like age, levels of cholesterol, physical activity level and lifestyle factors, those who skipped breakfast had an approximately twofold higher rate of cholesterol deposits on imaging.
Even with the adage that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” approximately 1 in 4 Americans skip breakfast. This study shows us that the temptation to skip breakfast might not be good for our health.
Although prior studies have shown an association between people who skip breakfast and higher rates of obesity, higher blood pressure, and higher levels of cholesterol, this is the first study to show an association between skipping breakfast and evidence of cholesterol deposits on diagnostic imaging.
Readers should note an important limitation in this study. It shows that skipping breakfast is a marker for more cholesterol deposits. However, the study does not prove that skipping breakfast specifically causes cholesterol deposits. Other factors may account for the differences seen in cholesterol deposits between groups, like patients who skipped breakfast were overweight and thus at higher risk for having pre-existing cholesterol deposits.
Overall, the study shows that skipping breakfast is associated with a higher risk of having cholesterol deposits and that taking time to eat breakfast is part of a healthier lifestyle.
Anant Mandawat, a graduate of Lakeside High School and Yale University’s medical school, is a doctor of internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.