When reading through a list of headlines from one of my favorite health news sites, there was an article titled “Could Skipping Breakfast Feed Heart Disease?” I had to click it. Typically, I don’t eat breakfast (stay tuned for a future post for reasons why) so scientific evidence showing that it could put me at risk for one of the biggest health demons of our time meant that a change of habits may be due. Did the science show that there was truly something inherent with skipping breakfast that could do this? It didn’t despite the seemingly straightforward title.
The title of the study itself was “The Importance of Breakfast in Atherosclerosis Disease” and they concluded that skipping breakfast could serve as a marker for atherosclerosis (heart disease). It’s no secret that authors will use bold article titles to draw in viewers, but consequently, these titles can be very misleading. I recommend that everybody read the study thoroughly to learn a lesson about why headlines can be misleading. While there were many problems with the study, I will be highlighting a few that I found to be most significant.
First, the sample size of the study was incredibly limited. The researchers were able to acquire a fairly large number of participants, but those participants were all employees of a single company located in Madrid, Spain. In order to extrapolate a study’s findings to all people, it is necessary to examine a more diverse population. With diversity aside, another issue is the lack of uniform distribution among the participants. Of the 4,052 participants, only 2.9% skipped breakfast while 69.4% ate a low-calorie breakfast and 27.7% ate a high-calorie breakfast. This means that although the sample size was fairly large, the researchers came to their conclusion based off of 118 individuals that skipped breakfast. Statistically, a sample size of 118 isn’t enough to make any definitive conclusions.
Another problem with the study is how they classified the skipping breakfast group. They classified skipping breakfast as consuming less than 123 calories, which could constitute 300 mL of orange juice or coffee with 20 grams of added sugar still counted as skipping breakfast. This means that someone could immediately start the day with an unhealthy intake of refined sugar and still be counted as not eating breakfast. This is concerning because it is common knowledge that consuming too much refined sugar causes inflammation and may lead to various chronic diseases. The researcher’s definition of skipping breakfast leads to a predisposition for the condition they are testing for, which makes it even more difficult to trust their conclusion.
These grounds alone are enough to doubt the conclusions found in the study, but there is another, more disturbing flaw in their research. As stated by the researchers, the group that skipped breakfast proportionally had the highest rates of smoking, alcohol consumption, and highest amounts of processed food consumed. All of these habits are commonly linked with heart problems and further diminish the ability of the study to specifically correlate skipping breakfast to heart disease. In order to come to a conclusion, it would be necessary that all of the individuals in the study have similar habits related to health.
Science is one of the best vehicles for driving the advancement of knowledge, but it can sometimes fall victim to misinformation. The original article I clicked on and the study discussed above serve as a perfect example of this fact and shows why every study must be evaluated critically. While participants who skipped breakfast were more likely to show early signs of heart disease, the problems with how the study was conducted don’t allow for a conclusion to be made.
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Uzhova, Irina, et al. “The Importance of Breakfast in Atherosclerosis Disease.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology, vol. 70, no. 15, 2017, pp. 1833–1842., doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2017.08.027.