Skipping Meals May Take Years off Your Life, Study Finds—Here’s What to Know

bowl of granola with yogurt, berries

Study Finds Skipping Meals Can Shorten LifespanArx0nt – Getty Images

  • One study found that skipping meals may be linked to premature death.

  • The researchers found that skipping breakfast was linked to an “increased risk of cardiovascular disease death.”

  • A dietitian weighs in on the findings and limitations of the study.

We’ve heard for years that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. However, according to a published study, it may actually be more important than previously thought. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dieteticsviewing effects of skipping meals and meal frequency in relation to mortality and heart health.

The study, published in August of this year, sought to find out whether eating behaviors such as meal frequency, skipping meals, and time between meals are associated with all-cause and cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality.

The study consisted of 24,011 adults aged 40 and over who participated from 1999 to 2014. Researchers examined various eating behaviors of participants who self-reported their eating habits every 24 hours. Causes of death were tracked through death records until 31 December 2015.

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After studying the participants over the years, the researchers found that certain eating behaviors were actually linked to higher rates of premature death. Eating just one meal a day was associated with an increased risk of all-cause and CVD death, while skipping breakfast was associated with an increased risk of CVD death and skipping lunch or dinner was associated with an increased risk of all-cause death. Finally, the study found that eating meals too close together (less than four and a half hours apart) was also linked to premature death from all causes.

The study reiterated the importance of the research, noting that 40% of Americans skip meals, and at least one in five people ages 20 to 74 skip breakfast or lunch, according to the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

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So what does this mean for the average person? “At the end of the day, what matters is an individual’s ability to meet their nutritional needs for optimal health,” he explains. Keri Gans, RDNauthor Small Change Diet and podcast host Kerry Report. “If they’re missing out on important nutrients their bodies need by eliminating meals, this can be detrimental to their health in the long run,” leading to a “higher risk for certain cancers and heart disease,” he says.

While the study certainly has its limitations, Gans says, “breakfast is typically a good vehicle for fiber and nutrients associated with reduced cardiovascular risk, such as vitamins C, E, and D.” For example: “Oatmeal made with milk, topped with strawberries and almonds, would be an ideal breakfast for heart protection. Other potential risks for skipping breakfast include weight gain and osteoporosis; but research immortality sure,” he warns.

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Researchers noted similar possible reasons for why skipping meals could lead to their findings, including unhealthy diet and lifestyle habits, overeating, and eating higher-calorie meals.

While this study is broad and comprehensive in many ways, there are also many limitations. He relied mostly on a 24-hour, self-reported diet recall that “may not always be the best method for dietary assessment,” Gans said. “Participants may not remember accurately what they ate, or report it honestly, potentially giving false information.” The researchers noted that it is impossible to consider many other unmeasured factors (such as pre-existing conditions) besides the role of sleep in the relationship between food and mortality.

In conclusion, while these findings about the relationships between meal skipping and death are important, there are many more factors that contribute to premature death. Consuming adequate nutrients, including those found in fruits and vegetables, is key to maintaining overall health and reducing the risk of potential life-shortening diseases.

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