Question of the Week

December 11, 2007


For many teens, the approach of the winter break also means the approach of midterms, finals, and major projects. This can leave less time to get enough sleep and eat right.

Staying up late, waking up late, and missing breakfast may seem like a necessity when things get busy, but this pattern can make it harder to function at one's best during those waking hours.

"Even without 'sleep disorders and other medical conditions,' lack of sleep makes people sleepy -- and sleepy people do not function at their best." For more information about the importance of a good night's sleep, visit "No Time to Sleep," the Question of the week from September 12, 2005:

When those late nights turn into late mornings with no time for breakfast, the issues can be even greater.

"While adults need to eat breakfast each day to perform their best, kids need it even more. Their growing bodies and developing brains rely heavily on the regular intake of food. When kids skip breakfast, they can end up going for as long as eighteen hours without food, and this period of semistarvation can create a lot of physical, intellectual and behavioral problems for them. ... Remember that eating a wholesome, nutritious morning meal will probably save you time in the long run. By recharging your brain and your body, you'll be more efficient in just about everything you do. Interestingly, studies show that kids who skip breakfast are tardy and absent from school more often than children who eat breakfast on a regular basis. ... Time invested in breakfast is much more valuable than the few extra minutes of sleep you might get by bypassing the morning meal."

For those who skip breakfast because they don't have time or are always on the go, it can be difficult to find options that are quick and convenient.

"When you're on the run, grabbing something quick at the drive-through window can be pretty tempting. But [Heidi Skolnik, a contributing editor to Men's Health magazine] warns that those fast-food choices pack a wallop in fat and calories, and don't offer much nutritional value. ... Skolnik offered tips on how to cut calories and fat in your breakfast food choices: * Choose an English muffin over a croissant, which is filled with butter. * Cut the fillings. Don't choose egg, cheese and meat -- pick just two. * If you want meat, choose leaner Canadian bacon over sausage."

The above link will take you to a site which includes some of the calorie and fat content for "what you're getting when you eat some of those popular fast-food choices."

Even a healthy breakfast doesn't have to take a lot of time. There are a lot of nutritious options that can be fairly quickly prepared and eaten.

"Preparing breakfast foods does not have to be a time-consuming process. With a little planning, everyone can enjoy the health benefits derived from eating a breakfast each day. Here are some quick and easy breakfast ideas:..."

The above link will take you to a site which includes quick and easy breakfast ideas that can be eaten both at home and on the go. Please keep in mind: any recommendations for meals that can be eaten "in the car" should be reserved for passengers. Those driving should eat at home or once they arrive at their destination.

If you have the opportunity to shop for your own breakfast foods or can influence the person who does the shopping for your household, then try to get foods that you will like (and take the time to eat), but will also start your day off right.

"A healthy breakfast that includes high-fiber cereal can help you lose weight and keep diabetes, heart disease, and stroke at bay -- especially when the menu also includes nonfat milk and fruit. Research suggests that breakfast eaters are leaner than those who skip the morning meal, with one study reporting that missing breakfast was associated with a fourfold increase in the risk of obesity, says the February issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch. High-fiber cereals are central to breakfast's health benefits... Look for breakfast cereals that provide at least 6 grams of fiber per serving, suggests Harvard Men's Health Watch, but make sure your choice is low in sugar (less than 10 grams per serving). Add nonfat milk and bananas, berries, or apple slices to turn that bowl of fiber into a tasty meal."

Some skip breakfast because they feel they don't have time. Others are watching their weight and don't realize that a healthy breakfast can make this easier. Different people have different reasons. Whatever the reason, the positive effects the body receives from a healthy breakfast are clear.

"Breakfast not only starts your day off right, but also lays the foundation for lifelong health benefits. People who eat a healthy breakfast are more likely to:

  • Consume more vitamins and minerals and less fat and cholesterol
  • Have better concentration and productivity throughout the morning
  • Control their weight
  • Have lower cholesterol, which reduces the risk of heart disease
Breakfast is especially important for children and adolescents. According to the American Dietetic Association, children who eat a healthy breakfast are more likely to have better concentration, problem-solving skills and eye-hand coordination. They may also be more alert, creative and less likely to miss days of school."

Even those who know the health benefits, know healthy options they could quickly take along, and know that eating breakfast will actually help them use the time they do have more efficiently don't always do what they know is best.

"Breakfast is the most common missed meal by adolescents which leads to a higher probability of snacking during the day. ... Teens could readily state the necessary steps to improve one's diet. Examples given ranged from lowering the intake of greasy food and junk food to implementing vitamins and the incorporation of breakfast eating in the diet. Once again, knowledge of healthy eating did not mean the adolescents adhered to these dietary practices. A study completed by Mary E. Shaw on the breakfast eating habits of teens revealed that many adolescents skip this essential meal. Various reasons for not eating breakfast were given by teens such as, lack of time in the morning, not being hungry, and simply not feeling like it."

Questions of the Week:
What do you think is the biggest reason most teens skip breakfast? What other reasons are common? What reasons could you offer to those who skip breakfast to help them understand its importance? What resources could you provide them with in order to make it easier for them to find quick and healthy breakfast solutions that would work for them? Why do you think it is difficult for some teens to make the healthy choices that they know are best? What do you think would make it easier for them to make better choices?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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