Here’s another reason why breakfast may truly be the most important meal of the day: Men who regularly reported skipping breakfast had a higher risk of heart attack or fatal coronary heart disease, according to a new study.

The study, which was published Monday in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, analyzed data from a questionnaire and tracked the health outcomes of over 26,000 men between the ages of 45 to 82, for 16 years.

It found that men who regularly skipped breakfast had a 27 per cent higher risk of heart attack or death from coronary heart disease compared to those who didn’t skip breakfast.

Breakfast skippers were also more likely to gain weight, develop diabetes and high cholesterol, the study found.

Men who reported eating breakfast ate, on average, one more time during the day compared to those who skipped it.

According to the study’s authors, that suggests the men who skipped breakfast were not eating make-up meals later in the day.

“It does suggest that it’s important to consider what you eat, but it’s also important to spread that food out over the course of the day,” study author Prof. Eric Rimm, of the Harvard School of Public Health, said.

Toronto-based cardiologist Dr. Beth Abramson said Canadians could benefit from taking the time to have a proper breakfast.

“We’d likely see less high blood pressure, high cholesterol, tendency to diabetes and being overweight and out of shape, because we’re starting off the day on the right foot,” Abramson said.

The study also found that respondents who reported eating after going to bed had a 55 per cent higher risk for coronary heart disease. However, the study’s authors were less convinced this behaviour posed a major public health concern because few respondents reported eating after going to bed.

Respondents who reported skipping breakfast were younger, more likely to be employed full time, unmarried and less physically active. They also tended to be smokers, and drink more alcohol.

The study collected data from 26,902 male health professionals from 1992 to 2008 and accounted for factors such as BMI, TV watching, physical activity levels, sleep, diet, alcohol consumption, medical history, smoking behaviour, employment status and marriage status.

Clear message from results

Lead author Leah Cahill, from the Harvard School of Public Health, said the study’s results are clear.

“Don't skip breakfast," she said in a statement. "Skipping breakfast may lead to one or more risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which may in turn lead to a heart attack over time.”

She said that incorporating healthy foods into your breakfast is one way to ensure your morning meal provides adequate energy and a balance of nutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

Cahill suggests adding nuts and chopped fruit to a bowl of whole grain cereal or steel-cut oatmeal as one way of getting a healthy start to the day.

While the group studied was predominantly comprised of men of white European ancestry, the results should apply for other ethnic groups and women, the authors said.

However, the research question should be tested in additional studies, they cautioned.

With a report by CTV News’ Medical Correspondent Avis Favaro