Skipping meals can take years off your life, college results — here’s what you need to know

granola bowl with yogurt, berries

Study Finds Skipping Meals May Shorten LifespanArx0nt – Getty Images

  • One study found that skipping meals may be associated with premature death.

  • Researchers found that skipping breakfast is linked to an “increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.”

  • A dietitian weighs up the findings and limitations of the study.

We’ve been told for years that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But it may be even more important than previously thought, according to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dieteticsthat the effects of skipping meals and meal frequency related to mortality and heart health.

The study, which was published in August this year, sought to find out whether eating behaviors, such as meal frequency, meal skipping, and time between meals, were associated with all-cause and cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality.

The study consisted of 24,011 adults age 40 or older who participated from 1999 to 2014. Researchers looked at different eating behaviors of participants who self-reported their eating habits every 24 hours. Causes of death were tracked through death certificates through December 31, 2015.

After examining participants over the years, researchers found that certain eating behaviors were, in fact, linked to higher rates of premature death. Eating only one meal a day was associated with an increased risk of all-cause and CVD death, while skipping breakfast was linked to an increased risk of CVD death, and skipping lunch or dinner was linked to a increased risk of all-cause mortality. Finally, the study found that eating too close together (less than four and a half hours apart) was also linked to premature death from all causes.

The study found that, according to a US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 40% of Americans skipped meals and at least one in five between the ages of 20 and 74 skipped breakfast or lunch, highlighting the importance of the study was repeated.

So, what does this mean for the average person? “Ultimately, it’s about an individual being able to meet their nutritional needs for optimal health,” explains Keri Gans, RDNauthor The small change diet and podcast host of The Keri Report. “If they miss out on important nutrients their bodies need by eliminating meals, it could be detrimental to their health in the long run,” leading to a “higher risk of certain cancers and heart disease,” she says.

While the study certainly has its limitations, Gans says “breakfast tends to be a good carrier for nutrients associated with a reduction in cardiovascular risk, such as fiber and vitamins C, E, and D.” For example: “Oatmeal made with milk, topped with strawberries and almonds, would be an ideal breakfast to protect the heart. Other potential risks of skipping breakfast include weight gain and osteoporosis, however research that is not closed,” she warns.

Researchers noted similar possible reasons why skipping meals may lead to their findings, including unhealthy dietary and lifestyle habits, overeating and eating higher calorie meals.

While this study was large and comprehensive in many ways, it also has many limitations. It was mostly based on a 24-hour, self-reported dietary recall, “which may not always be the best method for nutritional evaluation,” explains Gans. “The participants may not accurately remember what they ate or report honestly, which could lead to misinformation.” Researchers noted that it was impossible to account for the role of sleep in the relationship between food and mortality, as well as numerous other unmeasured factors (such as pre-existing conditions).

The bottom line is that while these findings about the relationship between skipping meals and mortality are important, there are many more factors that play a role in premature death. Consuming enough nutrients, including those found in fruits and vegetables, is essential for maintaining overall health and reducing the risk of potential life-shortening diseases.

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