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A healthful breakfast matters

(ran NP edition)

The American breakfast is getting more healthful, but fewer Americans are bothering to eat it.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows that the classic American breakfast of bacon, eggs, whole milk, white toast and butter is becoming rare. Taking its place is a breakfast of whole-grain breads and high-fiber, ready-to-eat cereals. The same study showed that 25 percent of adults don't eat breakfast at all, compared with 14 percent in 1961.

"That (old-fashioned) breakfast requires preparation," said Doris Derelian, a nutritionist and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "The 1990s family has so much activity that has to be crammed into a day that something has to be given up, so breakfast-eating is sacrificed."

The decline in breakfast-eating comes in the face of mounting evidence showing the benefits of a morning meal. Studies reveal that school attendance and classroom performance improve when children eat breakfast, and nutritionists say adults perform better, eat more healthful meals later in the day and stay on their diets when they eat breakfast.

"If you don't eat, you're going to feel tired, slow and sluggish," said Derelian, "and you're going to feel incredibly hungry. In adults, you're going to get headaches, irritability and maybe some trembling. In kids, it absolutely interferes with their learning."

One study conducted by Ernesto Pollitt of the University of California, Davis, took 9- to 11-year-old children and gave half of them a 535-calorie breakfast of waffles, syrup, margarine, orange juice and milk at 7 a.m. The other half got a non-caloric, non-caffeinated drink. At 11:30 a.m., the children were given a series of tests. After a week, the group that was given breakfast was given the drink and vice versa.

Pollitt found that children who got breakfast committed fewer errors. He conducted a similar test, giving children a breakfast of milk, cereal with sugar, egg, juice and toast and found that the ones who ate the breakfast had fewer arithmetic errors in tests.

"Give it to them," Pollitt said in a phone interview when asked about breakfast.