Teenagers who skip breakfast are more likely to be obese, research has shown.
Scientists warn that missing the first meal of the day can lead to unhealthy habits that cause young people to pile up on the pounds.
Instead of eating a healthy meal for breakfast, hungry teenagers might later go to unhealthy foods such as cakes and sugar-laden drinks.
The teenagers and children of Great Britain are among the unhealthiest in the western world, with the highest obesity rates in Europe.
Teenagers who skip breakfast are more likely to get fat, research shows. Researchers in Brazil suggest that missing the first meal of the day leads to unhealthy habits
Obesity at a young age can cause health problems such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Researchers from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil analyzed data from two major surveys that were conducted in Europe and Brazil.
They both looked at the relationship between eating behavior and different weight indicators.
These include stomach fat, waist circumference, and body mass index data (BMI).
The European data concerned 3,528 adolescents aged 12 to 18 years in ten large cities, and the Brazilian data concerned 991 adolescents aged 14-18.
Participants were questioned at their training level, with an hour or more of exercise per day deemed sufficient.
They were asked how many hours they slept every night and how often they walked around watching TV or playing computer games.
Questions about food choices asked test subjects to agree or disagree on a scale from one to seven with the statement 'I often skip breakfast'.
The most important finding was that skipping breakfast is directly related to an increased waist circumference and BMI in adolescents.
Study co-author Dr. Elsie Costa de Oliveira Forkert said: “Of all the energy balance behaviors analyzed, the strongest correlation was between skipping breakfast and the elevated average levels of obesity markers.
'For boys who skipped breakfast, the average waist circumference was 2.61 cm larger in Europe and 2.13 cm larger in Brazil than that of boys who usually ate breakfast.'
Boys BMI was higher among those who had skipped breakfast, even if they had adequate sleep of eight hours a night.
The same was true for girls, with those who skipped breakfast with an average waist circumference of 1.97 cm.
Skipping breakfast can lead to an unbalanced diet and other unhealthy behaviors, potentially making adolescents vulnerable to weight gain, the researchers said.
Dr. Forkert said: 'By skipping breakfast, millions of children and adolescents around the world are likely to replace a healthier home-made meal including dairy products, whole grains, and fruits with fast food at a location on the way to school or school itself.
"This usually means consuming high-calorie foods with low nutritional value, such as fried snacks, pastries, soft drinks and other sugary drinks, all of which are directly related to the development of obesity."
The results are published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Research suggests that people who eat breakfast are slimmer because they tend to eat less during the day – especially fewer calorie-rich snacks.
Dietitians often recommend starting the day with porridge or oats to slowly release energy, or proteins such as eggs that fill.
British teenagers aged 15 to 19 have the highest obesity in Europe and the fifth highest in the developed world, according to a report from the Nuffield Trust think tank and the Association for Young People's Health in February.
About eight percent of teenagers in this age group are obese – a larger number than those in 14 other European countries, including Italy, France, Belgium, Spain, Greece and Germany.
Only the US, New Zealand, Canada and Australia have higher childhood obesity.
WHAT IS Obesity? AND WHAT ARE HEALTH RISKS?
Obesity is defined as an adult with a BMI of 30 or higher.
The BMI of a healthy person – calculated by dividing the weight in kg by the height in meters and the answer again by the length – is between 18.5 and 24.9.
Among children, obesity is defined as being in the 95th percentile.
Percentiles compare young people with others of the same age.
For example, if a three-month-old is in the 40th percentile for weight, it means that 40 percent of the three-month-old children weigh the same or less than that baby.
About 58 percent of women and 68 percent of men in the UK are overweight or obese.
The condition costs the NHS around £ 6.1 billion each year, from its estimated £ 124.7 billion budget.
This is due to obesity, which increases the risk of a number of life-threatening conditions.
Such conditions include type 2 diabetes, which can cause kidney disease, blindness and even limb amputations.
Research suggests that at least one in six hospital beds in the UK is taken by a diabetes patient.
Obesity also increases the risk of heart disease, killing 315,000 people in the UK each year – making it the leading cause of death.
Carrying dangerous amounts of weight is also linked to 12 different types of cancer.
This includes breast, which affects one in eight women at some point in its life.
Among children, research suggests that 70 percent of obese young people have high blood pressure or increased cholesterol, putting them at risk for heart disease.
Obese children are also considerably more likely to become obese adults.
And if children are overweight, their obesity is often more severe in adulthood.
No fewer than one in five children go to school in the UK with overweight or obesity, which increases to one in three by the time they turn 10.