This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on July 2, 2014.
The most important meal of the day may not be so important after all, at least when it comes to losing weight.
A new study – one of the most comprehensive on the subject – reveals that either eating or skipping breakfast may not have much impact on your weight-loss goals.
Scientists from the University of Alabama at Birmingham spent 16 weeks tracking 309 overweight but otherwise healthy adults, ages 20 to 65. The subjects were split into three groups: one told to eat breakfast, one told to skip it, and a control group, which was told to eat healthfully but not told either way what to do about breakfast.
After almost four months, each group averaged a modest weight loss – between 1 and 2 pounds per person – but many group members also gained weight no matter which group they were in. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published the findings.
In 1992, a 52-person study in the same journal perpetuated the popular belief that eating breakfast helps people lose weight. In that experiment, normal breakfast skippers did shed pounds after they started eating breakfast, but so did those who started skipping the meal.
The new study included six times as many patients as the 1992 study and followed them for a longer period of time in a randomized, controlled trial, which lead author Emily Dhurandhar says gives it an edge over previous research. In a statement, she suggested future studies could examine whether certain breakfast foods or quantities may be more effective in promoting weight loss.