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Researching Benefits of Breakfast Consumption in Overweight & Obese Adolescents

Aug. 28, 2023

The newly developed pediatric research grant sponsored by the Department of Pediatrics at Dell Medical School and Dell Children’s Medical Center was awarded recently to advance research and improve pediatric care.

Heather Leidy, Ph.D., an associate professor within Dell Med’s Department of Pediatrics and UT’s Department of Nutritional Sciences, and Charlotte Griffith, M.S., RD, a doctoral candidate working with Leidy, were awarded funding to investigate how breakfast plays a role in adolescents’ health who are considered overweight or obese.

Poor sleep is a national health priority among youth due to its impact in a range of health factors (such as psychological, physical and developmental wellness). Specifically, sleep health and circadian rhythm are crucial factors in weight management because they can affect appetite, metabolism and energy balance. In addition, circadian rhythm can also affect weight management. Our bodies have a natural rhythm that tells us when to eat and when to sleep. When this rhythm is disrupted, it can lead to changes in appetite, metabolism and energy balance. This can also lead to weight gain. 

Leidy has already conducted important research narrowing down how morning diet habits affect weight management outcomes (e.g., appetite control, satiety, eating behavior and glycemic control) in “breakfast skipping” adolescents considered overweight and obese. Her research has produced critical pilot data that shows how the comparison of how breakfast skipping or consumption affects sleep. 

“Preliminary data from our lab has shown breakfast consumption is positively associated with sleep quality, whereas nighttime eating is negatively associated with sleep quality in young adults,” Leidy says. “In addition, sleep-wake hormones, reflective of internal circadian alignment, showed blunted rhythms when breakfast was skipped and typical rhythmicity when breakfast was consumed. These findings suggest that the timing of eating occasions, specifically breakfast skipping and nighttime eating, are associated with sleep disturbances and desynchronization of circadian-related hormones. Collectively, the existing, albeit limited, evidence suggests a cyclical relationship between ingestive behaviors and sleep.”

The current research will allow additional assessments of sleep health and circadian rhythm as potential mediators of weight management. The results could show improvement in indices of sleep health and promote alignment of markers of circadian rhythm. Leidy’s research may warrant targeted interventions to improve sleep disturbances and associated chronic disease risk in the adolescent community.

We are proud to have Leidy and her team improving the care of our pediatric patients through research and evidence-based practices. Improving the current knowledge of how breakfast consumption affects sleep health and circadian rhythms in adolescents dealing with overweight and obesity offers a significant health impact on the children and families who we serve at Dell Medical School and Dell Children’s. We look forward to bringing you the results of this research study in the future.