Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?

Skipping the first meal of the day has been linked to weight gain. But two recent studies published in the August edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition are questioning that widely held belief after researchers found that changing breakfast habits may not necessarily affect your weight.

Researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham looked at about 300 overweight and obese individuals and tracked weight change within three groups: a control group, a group told to eat breakfast, and a third group told to skip the first meal.

Following the 16-week study, researchers found that weight loss was generally unaffected regardless of whether participants ate breakfast or not.

In a separate, smaller study out of the University of Bath, researchers looked the effects of eating breakfast versus morning fasting.

As part of the study, participants were separated into two groups. The “fasting group” didn't consume calories until 12 p.m. and the “breakfast group” ate at least 700 calories by 11 a.m., with at least the first half consumed within two hours of waking up.

At the end of the six-week study, the participants'  body weights, resting metabolic rates, cholesterol and most measures of blood sugar were about the same as they had been at the start, whether they ate breakfast or not.

"The belief that breakfast is 'the most important meal of the day' is so widespread that many people are surprised to learn that there is a lack of scientific evidence showing whether or how breakfast may directly cause changes in our health," principal investigator James Betts said.

Betts said it's true that individuals who regularly eat breakfast tend to be slimmer and healthier, but they also tend to have more balanced diets and exercise more.

Registered dietitian Leslie Beck said she will continue to advise her clients to eat breakfast, pointing out that the recent studies were smaller in sample size and didn't take into account participants' food choices.

"(Breakfast) makes a difference to someone's overall nutrition intake during the day," Beck told CTV News Channel on Friday.

She said her clients that skip breakfast tend not to get enough fiber and fruit into their diet, and they're usually low on calcium.

"I do believe that eating breakfast, fuelling your body after a night of fasting, gives people more mental and physical energy," Beck added.

Breakfast important for children, youth

While the link between weight loss and breakfast may be called into question, the Dietitians of Canada say the first meal of the day remains extremely important, especially for children and youth.

"Decreased consumption of breakfast and decreased consumption of fruits and vegetables are emerging trends among children," Dietitians of Canada spokesperson Kate Comeau told CTV News Channel on Friday.

Comeau, a registered dietitian, said breakfast is a good chance for parents to make sure their children are getting some servings of fruits, whole grains and dairy in their diets.

She said hunger is linked to headaches and trouble concentrating.

"So when we think about kids in school trying to learn fractions or writing, it's really important that they have that energy."