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Breakfast is key for parents to ensure kids are well nourished

4 min read

The old saying goes that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and it's something that nutrition and health experts have been going on about for years but new research has revealed that it is actually vital for the overall health of children and teenagers. According to the study, young people who skip breakfast could leave themselves open to severe issues with development, that could affect them later on in life.

The research by King's College London used data from the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) Rolling Programme - it showed that as the frequency of breakfast being eaten increased so did the proportion of children meeting the recommended nutrient intake (RNI) for key micronutrients including folate, vitamin C, calcium, iron and iodine. Low levels of these nutrients can leave young people with low brain function and lacking in energy, among other health problems.

The study, published by the British Journal of Nutrition, used food diaries to analyse the daily eating habits of 802 children aged between 4 and 10 and 884 children aged between 11 and 18 over a 4 years period from 2008 to 2012.

Breakfast had to be at least 100 calories consumed between 6am and 9am.

They found that a quarter of the children aged between 11 and 18 skipped breakfast and 7% of those aged between 4 and 10 did the same.

A third of those who skipped breakfast are not getting enough iron, a fifth are not getting enough calcium or iodine and about 7% are not getting enough folate.

Study researcher Dr Gerda Pot said:

"Few UK studies have investigated differences in nutrient intakes between breakfast consumers and breakfast skippers among children and adolescents.

"This study provides evidence that breakfast is key for parents to ensure that their children are getting the nutrition they need."

What does it mean if a child does not get enough iron?

Iron circulates oxygen throughout the body so if a child does not get enough iron their body cannot produce enough oxygen-carrying red blood cells that are healthy. Not having enough oxygen means that they become fatigued - the subsequent exhaustion from not having enough oxygen can then affect how well their brain functions as well as their immune system's ability to keep the body healthy and infection-free.

Iron is also essential in maintaining healthy cells, hair and skin.

The amount of iron a child requires depends on their age but it decreases as they get older. As a guideline, they need 10 mg each day from ages 4 to 8 but only eight mg from ages 9 to 13.

Good sources of iron include:

  • red meat
  • fish
  • poultry

What does it mean if a child does not get enough calcium?

Calcium is vital for strong bones and teeth but also helps with other important functions within the body.

In addition to causing brittle bones, a calcium deficiency can also result in problems with a child's hormone release and their muscle contractions. 

Children need more calcium as they get older - from ages 4 to 8 they need 1,000 mg daily while from 9 to 18 they need 1,300 mg.

Good sources of calcium include:

  • milk
  • cheese
  • yogurt

What does it mean if a child does not get enough iodine?

Iodine is important for good thyroid health. A deficiency can result in something called a goiter, which is an enlargement of the thyroid gland in the neck.

Children who do not get proper amounts of iodine can also experience slow mental development.

From ages 1 to 8, children need about 90 mcg of iodine daily. From 9 to 13 they need 120 mcg and from 14 to 18 they need 150 mcg.

Good sources of iodine include:

  • tuna
  • salmon
  • shrimp

What does it mean if a child does not get enough folate?

Folate is important because it helps the bowel absorb nutrients properly and also improves metabolism.

Children aged 1 to 3 need 150 mcg of folate each day. Children from 4 to 8 need 200 mcg. Children from 9 to 13 need 300 mcg and from 14 onwards they need 400 mcg.

Good sources of folate include:

  • spinach
  • broccoli
  • asparagus

The researchers concluded:

"Our study adds to the body of evidence linking breakfast consumption with higher dietary intake in school-age children, supporting the promotion of breakfast as an important element of a healthy dietary pattern in children,"

"Further studies that investigate specific foods and dietary quality would help to identify if the differences are due to the difference types of breakfast being eaten by difference age groups, as well as provide more insight into the impact of breakfast on dietary quality overall."

A healthy balanced diet is the best way to consume all the nutrients we need. Sometimes however this isn't possible and then supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying any supplements or herbal medicines.