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Healthful breakfast has rewards

(ran SP 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.

However, it is younger people who increasingly are turning their backs on breakfast. Today, 12 percent of schoolchildren do not eat any meal until lunch, according to the American Dietetic Association.

The effect of breakfast on adult performance has been more difficult to measure, said Derelian, who is a past president of the American Dietetic Association. Adults don't take standardized tests or perform comparable tasks.

"As an adult, the evidence is not clear," said Derelian. She admits that some adults can "habituate themselves to not having breakfast," but she still advocates a morning meal, especially for women, who routinely give up breakfast in the name of weight loss.