Breakfast could prevent Type 2 diabetes

U experts say students need to develop better eating habits for long-term health.

Incoming freshmen Liz Lemirande and Anna Paradies eat breakfast in Comstock Hall Tuesday morning. University research has shown eating breakfast can help reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Bridget Bennett

Incoming freshmen Liz Lemirande and Anna Paradies eat breakfast in Comstock Hall Tuesday morning. University research has shown eating breakfast can help reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Elizabeth Ryan

It’s not unusual for college students to hop out of bed and run to class. There’s maybe time to grab a banana or granola bar on the way out, but that depends on what’s left from the last grocery shopping trip.

Students’ busy schedules can make it difficult to set aside time for breakfast. But new University of Minnesota research shows eating breakfast can reduce the risk of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

The study recorded how many people ate breakfast each week on a range from infrequent to daily, instead of simply tracking whether people eat breakfast or do not.

“Most of the previous studies have been yes/no, do you eat breakfast?” said Andrew Odegaard, the study’s lead author and a University epidemiology professor. “It’s not really an all-or-nothing thing.”

University students say they eat breakfast “sometimes,” depending on a variety of factors: busy schedules, dining hall hours or what they have in the fridge.

Julia Farrell, a graphic design senior, said time constraints keep her from eating breakfast.

“I’m a roll-out-of-bed-and-go person,” she said. “Breakfast is never a sit-down thing.”

For students who live in residence halls, whether they eat breakfast can depend on when dining halls are open and what food is offered. 

Gabriella Vazquez, a senior living in Comstock Hall over the summer while interning in the University’s microbiology department, said breakfast is the “best meal” at University Dining Services in comparison to lunch and dinner.

Other students may not agree. During the 2012-13 academic year, only 16 percent of meals eaten in the six University dining halls were breakfast, according to a UDS spokeswoman.

The importance of breakfast

Students said they have other priorities besides eating breakfast, like sleeping an extra hour.

“If I have to get up for a 9 a.m. class, I’ll go to breakfast,” said senior David Carrol. “But if I have class at 11, I won’t get up to eat.”

Nearly one-third of Minnesota college students said they eat breakfast one to three times per week in Boynton Health Service’s 2012 College Student Health Survey. Nearly 10 percent of college students said they don’t eat breakfast.

Boynton nutritionist Maggie Vertalino said breakfast is important to keep from starting the day with a chemical imbalance.

It’s common for those who skip breakfast to crave foods high in carbohydrates later in the day, she said. Stress hormones can make cravings for unhealthy foods worse without eating something for breakfast.

“If you’re skipping breakfast and you’re stressed out, it raises that [chemical] level,” Vertalino said. “It’s probably why you see people snacking … your brain saying ‘I need food and I need it now.’”

In the short term, eating breakfast can help concentration, energy and sleep. In the long term, the health issues investigated in Odegaard’s study could stem from forming poor eating routines.

Forming lifelong habits

Odegaard said he knows college students’ schedules aren’t normal, but it’s worth it to make breakfast a habit.

The earlier students can develop lifelong habits, the more likely they are to stick with them as adults, Vertalino said.

Social, physical and mental issues can arise from poor habits, she said, like weight gain and obesity, which come with an extensive list of risk factors including cavities, limited mobility, Type 2 diabetes, strokes and heart disease.

Jacqueline Cuellar, a microbiology sophomore, said she worked to keep up her breakfast-eating habit through her first year at the University.

“If you can find a way to incorporate a breakfast meal, it would be a way to start forming good habits,” Odegaard said. “And there may be some benefits on the metabolic side.”