Within-person comparison of eating behaviors, time of eating, and dietary intake on days with and without breakfast: NHANES 2005-2010

Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Sep;102(3):661-70. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.110262. Epub 2015 Jul 15.


Background: Breakfast omission is known to be associated with lower 24-h energy intake. However, little is known about downstream eating behaviors subsequent to skipping breakfast in free-living individuals.

Objective: We replicated the traditional crossover design of nutrition studies in a naturalistic setting to compare within-person differences in self-reported eating behaviors, energy intake, and other dietary characteristics of individuals on a day that included breakfast with a day that omitted breakfast.

Design: We used cross-sectional dietary data for 2132 adult respondents who reported breakfast in only one of 2 dietary recalls in the NHANES 2005-2010. Dietary outcomes examined included meal- and snack-eating behaviors, clock time of eating episodes, and intakes of energy, macronutrients, and food groups. Regression methods accounted for replicate diet measurements, covariates, and survey-design characteristics.

Results: The breakfast meal provided a mean of 508 kcal in men and 374 kcal in women, but differences in 24-h energy intakes between the breakfast and no-breakfast day were 247 and 187 kcal, respectively. Energy intakes at the lunch meal were higher on the no-breakfast day (202 kcal in men and 121 kcal in women), and the reported time of lunch was ∼35 min earlier. The energy contribution of dinner or its reported time did not differ. A higher number of energy-adjusted servings of fruit and whole grains were reported on the breakfast day, but the energy and macronutrient density of reported foods were not different.

Conclusions: In free-living American adults, the eating time for lunch was earlier, and the lunch meal provided more energy on the no-breakfast day than on the breakfast day. Although the quality of dietary selections reflected in the energy and macronutrient density of a day's intake did not differ between the breakfast and the no-breakfast day, breakfast skippers may need encouragement to consume fruit and whole grains at other eating episodes.

Keywords: NHANES; breakfast; chrononutrition; eating behaviors; eating frequency; energy density; food pattern equivalents; main meals; obesity; time of eating.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breakfast*
  • Choice Behavior
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet
  • Edible Grain
  • Energy Intake*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Food Preferences
  • Fruit
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Assessment
  • Nutrition Surveys*
  • Nutritive Value
  • Snacks
  • Vegetables
  • Young Adult