How Eating Breakfast Will Help Your Kids Control Their Weight

By Dan Peterson, TeamSnap's Sports Science Expert

Eat breakfast. We keep preaching it to our kids, mostly because we heard it from our parents. It makes logical sense to get calories into our kids to kick-off their day with renewed energy. Now, new research is starting to discover why it is so important by identifying a vital brain chemical that is released with a high protein morning meal.

With the CDC reporting that obesity in U.S. adolescents has quadrupled in the past three decades, health experts are looking for any idea that changes the mindset of kids towards eating healthy foods in the morning. It is those sweet, sugar-laden foods that they love, so what could change those habits of reaching for snacks throughout the day?

"In the U.S., people are skipping breakfast more frequently, which is associated with food cravings, overeating and obesity," said Heather Leidy, an assistant professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri. "It used to be that nearly 100 percent of American adults, kids and teens were eating breakfast, but over the last 50 years, we have seen a decrease in eating frequency and an increase in obesity."

Dr. Leidy recruited 20 overweight or obese females, ages 18-20, who routinely skipped breakfast. Every other week, most of the girls were fed a 350 calorie breakfast by the researchers, with one group getting a “normal” amount of 13 grams of protein and a second group getting a “high” portion of protein at 35 grams. A third group acted as a control by continuing to skip breakfast.

At the end of each repetition of this cycle, all of the girls were surveyed about their level of food cravings throughout the day and also had their blood tested for the neurotransmitter dopamine.  The interesting effect of dopamine is its ability to give a feeling of reward and satisfaction. Without this sensation, people don’t feel full and tend to eat more. It is one of the reasons that diet soda plays tricks on the brain. The false sweet taste of artificial sweeteners tells the brain it consumed calories, but the body recognizes the deficit and calls for more eating.

"Our research showed that people experience a dramatic decline in cravings for sweet foods when they eat breakfast," said Leidy. "However, breakfasts that are high in protein also reduced cravings for savory--or high-fat--foods. On the other hand, if breakfast is skipped, these cravings continue to rise throughout the day."

The research has been published in Nutrition Journal.

By eating breakfast early in the day, the release of dopamine sends out signals that convince kids they don’t need extra high-calorie snacks.

"Dopamine levels are blunted in individuals who are overweight or obese, which means that it takes much more stimulation--or food--to elicit feelings of reward; we saw similar responses within breakfast-skippers," Leidy said. "To counteract the tendencies to overeat and to prevent weight gain that occurs as a result of overeating, we tried to identify dietary behaviors that provide these feelings of reward while reducing cravings for high-fat foods. Eating breakfast, particularly a breakfast high in protein, seems to do that."

So, now armed with the latest nutritional science, you can encourage your family to sit down for that bowl of cereal, toast and/or glass of juice. They will thank you later.

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Dan Peterson is a recovering sports dad who is fascinated with sports science research, skill development and the athlete’s brain. He has written over 400 science-based articles across the Web and consults with parents, coaches and young players to help them understand the cognitive side of sports. You can visit him at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental and at @DanielPeterson.

Release Date: Nov 24 2014

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