The effects of skipping a meal on daily energy intake and diet quality

Public Health Nutr. 2020 Dec;23(18):3346-3355. doi: 10.1017/S1368980020000683. Epub 2020 May 13.


Objective: To examine whether skipping breakfast or lunch increased the next meal's energy content and changed total daily energy content and the quality of food intake measured by the 2010 Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2010).

Design: Means were compared across intake days and meal patterns. Multivariate individual fixed-effects model was used to account for individual food intake and diet quality preferences.

Setting: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2007-2016.

Participants: Adults aged 18 years or older who reported 2 d (24-h periods) of dietary intake and were not pregnant or lactating (n 23 488).

Results: Adults consumed 193 more kJ at lunch after skipping breakfast and 783 more kJ at dinner after skipping breakfast and lunch. Skipping at least one meal reduced total daily intake between 1053 (breakfast) and 1464 (dinner) kJ and reduced the daily HEI score. Skipping breakfast or skipping lunch reduced the HEI component scores for fruit, whole grains, dairy and empty energy; skipping lunch reduced the component scores for fruit, vegetables, whole grain, dairy, seafood and plant protein, and empty energy. Skipping dinner reduced component scores for vegetables, greens and beans, dairy, protein food, seafood and plant proteins, and empty energy. Skipping one or more meals increased component scores for total vegetables (breakfast), whole grains (dinner), Na (lunch or dinner) and refined grains (breakfast, lunch or dinner).

Conclusions: Skipping meals (particularly dinner) reduces daily energy intake, but the reduction in daily diet quality (particularly when skipping breakfast) may impact health negatively over time.

Keywords: Diet quality; Dietary intake; Eating occasions; Eating patterns; Healthy Eating Index-2010; National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey; Skipping meals.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breakfast
  • Diet
  • Energy Intake*
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meals
  • Nutrition Surveys