BALTIMORE -- Girls and young women who regularly ate breakfast, particularly one that includes cereal, were generally slimmer than those who skipped it, according to a study that tracked almost 2,400 people for 10 years.
Girls and young women who ate breakfast of any type had a lower average body mass index, a common obesity gauge, than those who said they did not.
The index was even lower for girls who said they generally ate cereal for breakfast, according to the findings of the study, which was conducted by the Maryland Medical Research Institute. The research received funding from the National Institutes of Health and
''Not eating breakfast is the worst thing you can do; that's really the take-home message for teenage girls," said a study author, Bruce Barton, the Maryland institute's president and chief executive officer.
The fiber in cereals and healthier foods that normally accompany cereal, such as milk and orange juice, may account for a lower body mass index among cereal eaters, Barton said.
The results were gleaned from an NIH survey of 2,379 girls and women in California, Ohio, and Maryland; the young women were tracked between ages 9 and 19. The results appear in this month's issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
Almost one in three adolescent girls in the United States is overweight, the association reports.
The girls were asked what they had eaten in the prior three days. A girl who reported eating breakfast on all three days had, on average, a body mass index 0.7 units lower than a girl who did not. If the breakfast included cereal, the average was 1.65 units lower, researchers found.
Breakfast consumption declined as the girls aged, the researchers found, and those who did not eat breakfast tended to eat foods higher in fat content later.
''We think it kick-starts your metabolism," Barton said.
John Kirwan, a professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University's Schwartz Center for Nutrition and Metabolism, said the findings may be ''more reflective of overall eating habits."
He added that the study did not distinguish between low- and high-sugar cereals.