Often, adults and adolescents who want to lose weight mistakenly skip meals. They believe skipping breakfast, lunch, or dinner will help them with their weight management. Several studies have cast doubt on their hypothesis. This piece will explain how meal skipping can negatively impact children.
Regular eating is when one consumes three scheduled main meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Meal skipping is when one skips one of these three meals.
Benefits of Regular Meal Consumption in Children
Regular eating helps in supplying the energy and nutrients that are essential for survival and growth. Hence, regular eating is essential for the wellbeing and development of children.
A study conducted by Hye-Young Kim et al. in 2005 found positive correlations between regular eating habits and increased academic performance, increased social behavior, and better judgment in selecting healthy food choices (https://e-nrp.org/DOIx.php?id=10.4162/nrp.2012.6.4.328).
The most important meal is breakfast. A 2013 report from Jacqueline B. Marcus found associations between consumption of breakfast and higher frequency of food intake during the day, better appetite regulation, and a higher overall energy balance (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B978012391882600011X?via%3Dihub). Marcus also suggested that people who eat breakfast are more likely to make healthier food choices, which play a role in the positive regulation of body fat. Eating breakfast makes one less likely to miss lunch or dinner because eating breakfast facilitates one’s desire for later meals.
The above-cited study by Hye-Young Kim et al. corroborated the research performed by Jacqueline B. Marcus 2013. Kim’s study showed that children who skip meals are more likely than those who do not skip meals to eat unhealthy food. These children may be choosing to eat unhealthy foods to compensate for the energy deficit created by skipping meals.
Does Meal-Skipping Affect Childhood Obesity and Obesity-Related Disorders?
Skipping meals promotes snacking and the selection of unhealthy food of low nutritive value. Habits such as snacking and consuming unhealthy food increase one’s overall energy, but the drawbacks are significant.
Snacking is defined as the tendency of an individual to consume food and drinks in between meals. Snacking leaves an individual with excess energy. When it is not used, this excess energy is stored as body fat. Thus, skipping meals can lead to the storage of excess energy as excess body fat.
According to a 2016 study by Anne I. Wijtzes (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2015.09.039), children between the ages of four and six who skip meals are more likely to have excess body fat. This link between meal-skipping and excess body fat was shown to be especially true when the children concerned were skipping breakfast. There is, therefore, a positive correlation between children skipping meals, snacking behavior, and childhood obesity. Wijtzes inferred that a similar increase in body fat should be expected in children who skip lunch and dinner. Gayle Savige et al. concluded in their 2007 study that the more an individual snacks, the higher the chances are that they will skip a scheduled meal (http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/4/1/36). Snacking and meal-skipping will lead to excess energy and excess fat.
A study performed by the University of Eastern Finland found a positive correlation between the skipping of main meals and cardiometabolic risk disorders, such as the increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus. The link between cardiometabolic disorders and skipping meals stems from two things: overconsumption of sugary drinks, red meat, and low-fat margarine, and underconsumption of vegetable oil.
Averting a Meal-Skipping Crisis!
Preventing meal-skipping requires dedication and commitment from the parents and the child.
A study conducted Chika Okada et al. in 2017 implicated parents in the meal-skipping and snacking of their children (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41366-018-0066-5). This study concluded that the children of parents who skip meals are also likely to skip meals. Therefore, parents should lead by example. They can motivate their children by not skipping meals themselves.
To avert this crisis, those who are around children (such as neighbors, teachers, and school officials) should ensure that the children have healthy choices for their meals. The availability of healthy food will deter children from consuming unhealthy meals even when snacking behavior cannot be avoided or interrupted.
In conclusion, the tendency of a child to snack and skip meals is largely dependent on the availability of scheduled main meals. Therefore, everyone responsible for a child should ensure they get their meals at the appropriate time and in appropriate portions.