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Teens and breakfast: Why it's a healthy combination

Here's why your teens shouldn't skip breakfast.

Teen eating cereal for breakfast.
Teen eating cereal for breakfast.Read moreiStock

We're always telling teens what to do such as exercise for an hour a day and get eight to nine hours of sleep a night—so why stop now? Here's another one: eat breakfast!

A problem within a problem. About one in five school-aged children (ages six to 19) are considered obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 8 to 12 percent of all school-age kids and 20-30 percent of teens skip breakfast. Is skipping breakfast adding to the problem?

Why do they skip breakfast? Excuses, excuses: "I don't have time" or "I'm not hungry" or "I'm too tired — NEED MORE SLEEP!" In fact, they probably haven't gotten enough sleep. Biologically speaking, their sleep cycle is changing to go to sleep later at night and wake up later in the morning. Sadly, most school schedules don't follow the biological schedule.

Yet another excuse: "I want to lose weight." In my experience over the years, skipping breakfast is more likely to cause weight gain. Many teens skip breakfast and lunch, and when they get home they're famished and binge eat. Undereating leads to overeating, and overeating leads to weight gain. A 2008 study published in Pediatrics found that adolescents who ate breakfast daily had a lower body mass index than teens who never or only occasionally ate breakfast.

What they're skipping are the benefits of eating breakfast.

  1. Breakfast stimulates metabolism. Eating a healthy breakfast can be helpful for losing excess weight or maintaining a healthy weight because it stimulates metabolism. During the night, metabolic rate slows and blood sugars drop to conserve energy. Basically, it's a fast. Once awake, breakfast (break the fast) speeds up metabolism. Increasing metabolic rate burns more calories. You may have heard the saying, "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper." Makes sense as your calorie-burning metabolism will be higher during the day. I learned that this quote is from a nutritionist, Adelle Davis. And I thought it was Shakespeare!

  2. Breakfast is important for growth of the mind. Breakfast is fuel for the brain — it helps with energy, alertness and concentration. In fact, a 2015 study of 5,000 kids showed that children are twice as likely to score higher than average grades if they start the day with a healthy breakfast; another study from 2013 showed that children who regularly eat breakfast get significantly higher scores in verbal and performance IQ tests. As an experiment, try solving this 10th grade math problem before breakfast: In a shop, the cost of four shirts, four pairs of trousers and two hats is $560. The cost of nine shirts, nine pairs of trousers and six hats is $1,290. What is the total cost of one shirt, one pair of trousers and one hat? Don't worry, I'm sure you'll figure it out after breakfast.

  3. Breakfast is important for the "growth spurt" of puberty. Girls grow about nine inches and gain 15-55 pounds; boys grow about 11 inches and gain up to 65 pounds. To do this they need the recommended daily allowances (RDAs) of vitamins and minerals. A common breakfast consisting of cereal, milk and fruit is rich in nutrients such as riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, pantothenic acid, iron, calcium, vitamin B6, vitamin C and vitamin D. These nutrients also help strengthen bones and support a strong immune system.

Food for thought: Make breakfast a habit — a good habit. While a sit-down family breakfast with all the major food groups is ideal, a "take out" breakfast is the next best thing. Good options include yogurt, granola or breakfast bars, dry cereal, and fresh or dried fruit. Want more breakfast ideas? Check out Mr. Breakfast.

Rima Himelstein, MD, is an Adolescent Medicine Physician, Crozer-Keystone Health System and a member of the Inquirer Health Advisory Panel, and Danielle Volpe, RDN, CPT, is a Clinical Nutritionist, Crozer-Keystone Health System.