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Breakfast-Skipping Teens More Likely To Suffer Iron Shortfall

Armen Hareyan's picture

Teens and Breakfast

Teens who start their day without breakfast are twice as likely to have diets low in iron - a shortfall that could be hurting their grades.

"Breakfast supplies more than just the energy kids need to get through the morning," said Dr. Theresa Nicklas, a professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "Teens who eat breakfast are also two to five times more likely to consume at least two-thirds the recommended amounts of most vitamins and minerals, including iron."

In a study involving over 700 ninth graders in Louisiana, Nicklas found that 19 percent skipped breakfast, including 20 percent of white and 36 percent of non-white girls. The diets of one in three breakfast-dodging teens had a significant iron shortfall -- twice the rate of their breakfast-eating peers.

Intakes of other vitamins and minerals, including zinc, calcium, and folic acid, were also much higher among the breakfast-eaters, while fat consumption was lower. The study results were published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

"It's important for parents to realize that the nutrients teens miss when they're allowed to skip breakfast are rarely recouped during other meals," said Nicklas, also a researcher at the USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center.

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Iron-deficiency anemia has long been known to have a negative affect on behavior and learning. And, one recent study found that even marginal iron levels were linked to poorer math scores among adolescent girls. In other studies, eating breakfast has been linked to improved memory, grades, school attendance and punctuality in children.

And while overweight children are more likely to skip breakfast, this practice rarely results in a real calorie reduction. Instead, research suggests that meal-skipping teens simply snack more on salty, high-calorie, low-fiber foods.

According to Nicklas, girls are at particular risk for low iron levels because they have increased needs. Poor food choices, skipped meals and calorie-cutting can all jeopardize a teen's diet quality and iron intake.

"Making time for breakfast is an important first step," she said.

Teens who get school work and clothes organized the night before, get to bed on time and wake up to pre-poured bowls of cereal and refrigerated glasses of milk or juice will probably find time to eat. And, while many foods can serve as breakfast fuels, ready-to-eat cereals can be one of the easiest and least expensive ways to help adolescents get the iron they need.

"Low iron might not be the sole cause of poor math scores among some adolescent girls. But, poor dietary habits do suggest that a teen might not be getting the structure and support that he or she needs to succeed academically," Nicklas said. "Making sure teens eat a healthy breakfast is part of that structure."