Chronic Stress Is Associated with Indicators of Diet Quality in Habitual Breakfast Skippers

J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Nov;116(11):1776-1784. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2016.03.016. Epub 2016 May 6.


Background: Previous studies suggest skipping breakfast is associated with lower diet quality, but possible reasons underlying this relationship are not clear.

Objective: Our aim was to determine the relationship between chronic stress and variations in diet quality in the context of breakfast eating or breakfast skipping.

Design: Based on morning eating habits, 40 breakfast eaters and 35 breakfast skippers participated in a cross-sectional study. Diet assessment was based on unannounced 24-hour recalls.

Participants/setting: Women, ages 18 to 45 years, with a body mass index (calculated as kg/m2) <40 were recruited in the greater Sacramento, CA, area between 2009 and 2013. Only women who consistently ate or skipped breakfast were enrolled.

Main outcome measures: Compliance with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans was measured using the Healthy Eating Index 2010 (HEI-2010). Stress and executive function were evaluated with validated questionnaires and a computer-based task, respectively.

Statistical analyses performed: Diet characteristics of breakfast eating and breakfast skipping were evaluated as nutrient densities (amounts per 1,000 kcal) and compared using a one-way analysis of covariance, with body mass index as covariate. Diet and stress variable associations were assessed using Pearson correlations.

Results: Despite no observed differences in daily energy intake between breakfast skipping and breakfast eating, overall diet quality (P=0.001), whole grains (P=0.002), fruit (P=0.002), empty calories (P=0.050), fiber (P=0.001), calcium (P=0.001), potassium (P=0.033), and folate (P=0.013) intakes were higher in breakfast eating. In the evening, breakfast skipping consumed more added sugars (P=0.012) and saturated fat (P=0.006). In breakfast skipping, reported stress was associated with empty calories (r=-0.39; P=0.027) and evening intake of added sugars (r=0.501; P=0.005). These relationships were not observed in breakfast eating.

Conclusions: Breakfast skippers were less likely to meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and consumed more empty calories at night. Chronic stress was related to evening eating choices and overall empty calories in the diet of breakfast skippers, whereas breakfast eaters' dietary intake did not appear to be affected by chronic stress.

Trial registration: NCT00999375.

Keywords: Breakfast skipping; Food intake; Healthy Eating Index; Night-time eating; Stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Breakfast / psychology*
  • California
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet / adverse effects*
  • Diet / methods
  • Diet Records
  • Eating / psychology*
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Stress, Psychological / etiology*
  • Young Adult

Associated data