Current events

Adolescents from less well-off families are more likely to skip breakfast

  food/youth/beakfast

The experts argue that public policies are needed to reinforce healthy eating habits in a key stage of growth (Photo: Stockpic, Pexels)

07/10/2021
Pablo Ramos

Research by the UOC and the UVic-UCC examines socio-economic and gender inequalities affecting breakfast habits among adolescents in Spain.


The experts argue that public policies are needed to reinforce healthy eating habits in a key stage of growth.

Breakfast is the first meal of the day and is vital for providing the energy needed to start the school day. It is, therefore, extremely important, especially during periods of growth and learning, such as adolescence. Nevertheless, a high percentage of young people, both boys and girls, do not eat breakfast.

A study available in open access, carried out by experts from the Faculty of Health Sciences at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) and the Manresa Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Vic - Central University of Catalonia (UVic-UCC) analysed the extent to which adolescents miss breakfast, concluding that 19% of girls and 13% of boys do not eat breakfast.

"Our research has found that adolescents' breakfast habits are affected by socio-economic and gender inequalities. Furthermore, the risk of skipping breakfast was 30% higher in girls and 28% higher in boys from disadvantaged families compared with those from more privileged backgrounds", noted Laura Esquius, one of the lead authors of the study together with researchers from the UOC's FoodLab research group (Alicia Aguilar Martnez and Anna Bach Faig) and the GRESP group from UVic-UCC (Marina Bosque Prous, Helena Gonzlez Casals, Ester Colillas Malet and Albert Espelt).

The researchers analysed data collected from more than 7,000 adolescents who took part in the DESKcohort project, a survey on social, education and health issues and health behaviours. The study forms part of a special report on the health benefits of eating breakfast published in the scientific journal Nutrients, edited by members of the teaching staff in the UOC's Faculty of Health Sciences, Alicia Aguilar Martnez and Anna Bach Faig.

 

The dangers of skipping breakfast

Eating breakfast is vital for energy and a balanced diet, and is therefore considered to be a key component of a healthy diet. Breakfast is also linked to positive effects on cognitive development and better academic performance in children, and is thus fundamental during adolescence. "It's a key period for establishing healthy lifestyles and setting health patterns that will continue into adulthood", explained Bach.

Missing breakfast in childhood and adolescence may be a predictor of unhealthy lifestyles linked to excess weight, obesity and metabolic disorders. Reduced intake of energy and nutrients can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies. Eating breakfast, meanwhile, is linked to positive effects on cognitive development and improved academic performance.

"There's a correlation between missing breakfast and poor academic performance. For both boys and girls, adolescents with average or poor results are much more likely to skip breakfast, compared with those who achieve good grades", explained Alicia Aguilar. The researcher pointed out that skipping breakfast in order to sleep longer or because time is short can also be a reflection of other risk factors leading to a more disorganized lifestyle and, thus, greater risks for health and academic performance.

 

Recommendations tailored to socio-economic circumstances and gender

The authors argue that to prevent such inequalities and encourage healthy eating among these age groups, public policies must be tailored to the socio-economic circumstances of each family and take the gender perspective into account.

The general recommendation in all cases is to avoid processed and ultra-processed foods for breakfast, choosing instead fresh foods based on the Mediterranean diet, such as fruit, nuts, unrefined cereals and fermented milk products.

"A wide range of strategies are necessary to encourage adolescents to eat healthy breakfasts. These may include community policies and nutritional education measures aimed at schoolchildren and families. But they must also be treated as just one of the factors for a healthy lifestyle, including a decent diet, sufficient physical exercise and enough sleep, in addition to being sustainable in the long term", explained Laura Esquius de la Zarza.

The correlation between economic and social factors and eating breakfast must be tackled in order to ensure that, irrespective of gender or background, all adolescents benefit from specific measures to encourage healthy living and to prevent nutritional and health gaps from widening. "This calls for a global approach, but at the individual family level we need to make sure healthy food is available, and also that parents set a good example in their own eating habits", said Marina Bosque Prous.

At school, building nutritional education into the curriculum, while providing students with knowledge, skills and good attitudes, leads to the acquisition of healthy eating habits and greater awareness of the importance of eating a healthy breakfast. "Providing advice on how to plan and prepare breakfast when time is short, or rethinking timetables and reviewing the food provided at schools are other clear strategies to encourage healthy eating environments at all stages of life, especially in adolescence" said the authors.

 

This research study supports Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 3 (Good Health and Well-being), 5 (Gender Equality) and 10 (Reducing Inequality).

 

Reference article:

ESQUIUS, L., AGUILAR-MARTNEZ, A., BOSQUE-PROUS, M., GONZLEZ-CASALS, H., BACH-FAIG, A., COLILLAS-MALET, E., SALVADOR, G., ESPELT, A. Social Inequalities in Breakfast Consumption among Adolescents in Spain: The DESKcohort Project. In: Nutrients [online]. 2021, Vol. 13, no. 8, page 2,500. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13082500

 

UOC R&I

The UOC's research and innovation (R&I) is helping overcome pressing challenges faced by global societies in the 21st century, by studying interactions between technology and human & social sciences with a specific focus on the network society, e-learning and e-health.

Over 500 researchers and 51 research groups work among the University's seven faculties and two research centres: the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) and the eHealth Center (eHC).

The University also cultivates online learning innovations at its eLearn Center (eLC), as well as UOC community entrepreneurship and knowledge transfer via the Hubbik platform.

The United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and open knowledge serve as strategic pillars for the UOC's teaching, research and innovation. More information: research.uoc.edu #UOC25years

UOC experts

Photograph of Laura Esquius

Laura Esquius de la Zarza

Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences
Academic Director of the Postgraduate Course in Nutrition, Sporting Performance and Health

Expert in: Nutrition and health, sports nutrition, diet and cancer, clinical nutrition and diet therapy.

Knowledge area: Food, nutrition and sporting performance.

View file
Photograph of Alicia Aguilar Martnez

Alicia Aguilar Martnez

Lecturer in the Health Sciences Department
Director of the Master's Degree in Nutrition and Health
Deputy Deanof Teaching in the Faculty of Health Sciences

Expert in: Educational innovation in e-health; food studies from a health perspective; biotechnology; nutritional education.

Knowledge area: Nutrition.

View file
Photograph of Anna Bach

Anna Bach Faig

Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences

Expert in: Promoting health through nutrition and exercise. Spokesperson for community nutrition: workplace nutrition, gastronomy, restaurants and health.

Knowledge area: Nutrition, food and health.

View file
Marina Bosque

Marina Bosque

Affiliated teacher in the Health Sciences Faculty in the UOC