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-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Missing Dad—Skipping Breakfast

Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King

Nutritionists have recognized for some time that no meal matters more than breakfast for maintaining good health. Unfortunately, a disturbingly high number of European and North American young children now do not eat this meal. And a new German study implicates the growing number of single-parent families as a prime reason for this problem.  

Affiliated with the University of Ulm, the authors of the new study stress “the importance of breakfast consumption to young children’s health.” Citing previous research, they adduce evidence that, compared to peers who do not regularly eat this meal, children and adolescents who regularly eat breakfast face “a reduced risk of becoming overweight or obese and a reduction in body mass index (BMI),” manifest better “motor functional skills,” evince superior “cognitive function during the morning,” and usually develop a “more favorable type 2 diabetes risk profile.”  

The authors of the new study further emphasize that the effects of eating or missing breakfast during childhood may linger because “food behaviors established in childhood are often continued into adulthood.”  

Given the very favorable effects of eating breakfast regularly, why do public-health officials report “an increasing prevalence of children skipping breakfast”? To answer this question, the Ulm scholars seek to identify “the determinants of skipping breakfast.” The data that reveal these determinants to the researchers come from 1,943 first- and second-graders enrolled in 84 German elementary schools. Among the “vulnerable groups” the researchers see missing out on breakfast are children whose parents are immigrants or poorly educated native Germans. But in a time of changing patterns of family life, perhaps no finding deserves more attention than the one identifying the children of single parents as particularly likely to miss breakfast.

The gap in breakfast patterns separating the children of single parents from peers with two parents turns out to be quite remarkable: using a simple two-variable statistical model, the researchers calculate that children of single parents are almost two-and-a-half times as likely to miss breakfast as are peers living in intact families (Odds Ratio of 2.45). Even when using a more sophisticated statistical model taking into account differences in parental education and immigrant status, the researchers find that children of single parents are still more than twice as likely to miss out on breakfast (Odds Ratio of 2.17; p < 0.01).  

The Ulm scholars conclude their study by calling for “interventions for preventing the skipping of breakfast and promoting healthy dietary behaviors among children.” Sensibly, these scholars reason that such interventions must “involve [children’s] parents in order to be successful.”  

However, only the socially blind will not see that children cared for by only one parent will forever be less likely to enjoy a home life that includes regular breakfast than those cared for by both parents. The interventions most likely to safeguard children’s health, then, are those that foster enduring parental marriage.

(Dorothea Kesztyüs et al., “Skipping Breakfast is Detrimental for Primary School Children: Cross-Sectional Analysis of Determinants for Targeted Prevention,” BMC Public Health 17 [2017]: 258, Web.)