MU Researcher Conducts Study on Obesity and Breakfast Habits

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COLUMBIA - Many teens and adults regularly skip breakfast, up to 30 to 60 percent for teenagers. MU Assistant Professor of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology Heather Leidy wanted to find out if skipping breakfast can lead to obesity, or if many obese teens skip breakfast to try to lose weight.

She conducted a five-week study on 20 obese adolescent girls. During the five weeks she had them eat both regular and high protein breakfast meals six times a week.

Said Leidy, "We packed these up for the volunteers to consume for six days at home and then on the seventh day they came in for a ten-hour testing day."

Dr. Leidy and her team used MRI scans and measured various hormone levels, such as the hunger hormone ghrelin, to see what affect the breakfast food was having.

Said Dr. Leidy, "What we found is that when individuals skip breakfast, their perceived hunger and ghrelin is much higher throughout the morning and evening."

Dr. Leidy also said that when the body is hungry, the pleasure center of the brain lights up, craving food.

However eating breakfast, especially ones high in protein, blunt these pleasure centers and reduce cravings. She found that protein-rich breakfasts in particular, also prevented the study participants from snacking on fatty foods later in the day.

Despite these benefits, many people still skip breakfast because of time constraints in the morning.

"Our adolescents when we asked them why they skipped it was literally they wanted to sleep in as late as possible and get on the bus and go" said Leidy. 

There are quick and healthy options however. Dr. Leidy said foods like lean-beef, eggs, and Greek yogurt are great breakfast options. Health stores, like Clover's Natural Market, also offer a variety of healthy breakfast options, like whole-wheat breakfast burritos that are low in sodium and high in protein.

Mike Fox, a Team Leader at Clover's, said, "You can make a really easy shake in the morning as well, just pile a bunch of stuff into a blender, springberries like blueberries, strawberries..."

However Leidy said that people should still eat a balanced breakfast with fruit and carbohydrates included. She also added that too much protein can be a detriment because it is very satiating and if a person eats too much in one sitting, they will feel too full to eat other essential parts of a good breakfast.