Nutritional Concepts, Inc. Logo 

Kristen Engerman helps daughter Blair, who said she feels slugglish 
all day without breakfast. (Photo for the Tribune by Warren Skalski)


Taste of freedom bad for teen diet
The problem: Out with breakfast and in with fast food

By Marla Krause
Special to the
Chicago Tribune
Published April 1, 2007


As teenagers become more independent, they are famous for making bad choices; now it seems those bad choices can extend to what and when they eat. A recent study not only supports the idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day but also suggests that teens who run out the door in the morning without eating are more prone to consuming fast food later in the day and gaining weight.

The study, published in the December 2006 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health by researchers at the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center at The Miriam Hospital and Brown Medical School, suggests that as teens enter adulthood, they are at greater risk of weight gain due to poor nutritional choices.

Up late, up early

"I have seen this for years," said Bonnie Minsky, a dietitian, public health educator and founder of Nutritional Concepts in Northbrook. "Teenagers like to be up late, but they have to get up early to go to school. When they get up, they are likely to have no appetite since they are tired and possibly have been snacking late. Also, since they are tired, they are in a rush in the morning and don't have time to sit down for breakfast."

The Miriam/Brown study analyzed data from 9,919 adolescents over several years. The first set of data covered the adolescents aged 11 to 21 from April to August 1996. The next data was collected from the same group from August 2001 to April 2002 when they were 17 to 27.

"We found that both fast-food consumption and breakfast skipping significantly increased between the two periods," said Heather Niemeier, a psychologist at The Miriam Hospital.

During the five-year interval from adolescence into adulthood, the number of participants considered overweight increased to 47 percent from 29 percent. Fast-food consumption increased to 2.5 days a week as young adults from two days a week as adolescents while the number of participants who reported that they consumed breakfast went to three days per week by young adulthood from four to five days a week in adolescence.

Authors of the study attribute these numbers to the increased independence and responsibility for food preparation that adolescents face.

Once teens have passed on breakfast, the pattern for the day is set. They will get ravenous later and thus often overeat as well as settle for fast food because it is, well, fast and easy.

"Fast food is a quick, easy and tasty option for aging adolescents who may be used to relying on Mom or Dad to prepare their meals," Niemeier said.

"By the late teen years a lot of parents just give up," Minsky said, "and kids are left to eat whatever they want. Parents must keep reinforcing eating a healthy breakfast as a way to curb hunger later in the day." Also, she suggested, parents can make it easier for the teen running out the door by keeping good choices available to grab in the morning.

"Hard-boiled eggs, cottage cheese, nuts are all great things to eat in the morning on the run," Minsky said. "I am a big fan of Handful of Nuts that Trader Joe's sells as well as the Breakstone Cottage Cheese individual servings."

Blair Engerman, a 13-year-old client of Minsky's, said that when she skips breakfast, she is tired and sluggish all day and "I feel like I am coming down with a cold." Engerman, who sees Minsky for help managing her diet due to food allergies, said she feels better all day if she has eaten breakfast. "It doesn't have to be big, just some eggs and a whole-wheat English muffin," Engerman said. "Otherwise your body doesn't know when its next meal will be and you just get hungrier later."

Parents set the example

Parents can set the best example by eating a healthy breakfast, said Shari Lieberman, a certified nutrition specialist and a fellow of the American College of Nutrition. "Your children watch you, and what you do leaves an imprint. With teens you must keep it simple as they are always in a hurry." Lieberman adds whole-grain toaster waffles and fruit to the easy-to-grab list. Engerman said that sometimes when she is in a hurry, she will just grab something left over from the previous night's dinner.

The good news, according to Minsky, is that many young adults turn around those bad eating habits in college when they have control over their own schedule and don't have to get up as early.

"And by 22," she said, "they are turning into adults, and you often see a whole different desire to eat better."

Copyright, Chicago Tribune 2007

Purchase The New American Breakfast for $6.95